Category: international solidarity

Building Community and Joy in the Struggle (Holiday Appeal); Dec 09, 2011

By admin, December 13, 2011 12:38 pm

http://www.sopudep.org/story/242

From 1791 to 1804, the African slaves of Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) revolted against the mightiest imperial powers of the time, declaring their independence as the first western black republic. We owe them a great deal of gratitude for this act of rebellion and showing us that there is no power to great to truly snuff out our dignity and spirit of humanity. Sadly, those old imperial powers, and those new, have rarely shown respect for Haiti’s sovereignty. “There’s gold in them thar hills”, to put it glibly. Our colonial past is one of taking from others what is not ours to take. This has proven to be a tough habit to squelch.

Haiti need to realize their ancestors dream of a free and independent nation. This can only happen if we release the reigns of control and put them in the drivers seat. In a country such as Haiti, where there are over 10,000 foreign charities and NGO’s operating withing it’s boarders, seeing local Haitian grassroots organizations taking action to empower their fellow citizens is special and should be nurtured.

SOPUDEP and other Haitian grassroots organizations are a prime example of the capability for Haitian’s to make their own way; to educate, to work, to deliver justice, to preserve their proud culture, and to heal. It is up to us however, to show our support and solidarity, and at this moment in time, to provide the means to make their work more effective. There is an end goal with supporting Haitian grassroots social initiatives; not just a never ending money pit of “charity”. The majority of Haitian’s will be the first to say that they don’t want handouts, but a chance to create a nation and a history that is theirs and theirs alone.

And for this Haitian social organization, SOPUDEP’s funding needs are great and varied. This includes the building of a new school, putting more and more women into their own business through their micro-credit program, a food program that feeds over 700 people five days a week (currently funded by Feed Them With Music), and seeing that children to poor to attend Haiti’s traditional tuition based schools can acquire a quality education; including those children who’s home is on the street. Providing free and accessible education has been SOPUDEP’s main priority since the opening of their first K-12 school in 2002.

The importance of free education to a child in Haiti is sometimes hard for us to understand, as for most of us, free education is the norm. SOPUDEP is able to do away with mandatory tuitions for its students by putting its international support toward paying it’s dedicated all Haitian teaching staff.

The Sawatzky Family Foundation’s funding efforts are focused on ensuring that SOPUDEP can continue to educate as many children as they can take in free of charge by paying SOPUDEP’s 48 staff.  In 2010, enrollment was 560 students and the 2011 school year saw it jump up close to 640 students, with hundreds of other children in the community waiting for a spot.

While SOPUDEP’s K-12 school is a main priority for the Sawatzky Family Foundation, funding  now includes the staff salaries for two other grassroots community schools; MOJUB and Les Petits Amis De SOPUDEP. A new program for the 2011 year is providing post secondary scholarship funds for SOPUDEP’s top students. This year, two students have been provided the necessary tuition to attend college. Marie is studying nursing and Sauvlyne, education science.

The Sawatzky Family Foundation also provides funds for basic school supplies and textbooks, SOPUDEP’s efforts in earthquake relief and the work they do in camps, their micro-credit program, their collaborative work they do with other grassroots organizations and the many other costs associated for this Haitian grassroots social organization to work for the betterment of their fellow citizens.

We have made it to the Christmas break, but the rest of the year still  lies ahead. Your donations are essential to sustaining and improving SOPUDEP’s education and economic programs. Please join us in supporting this Haitian organizations wonderful work!

Of course, we express our deepest gratitude to those that have already shown us that they believe in SOPUDEP’s vision for a better Haiti. However, SOPUDEP is but one group in this fight, and we recognize those other Haitian and Non-Haitian organizations that are on the same path of resistance against those powers that would rather see Haiti benefit a privileged few. We should find joy in helping Haitian’s in their struggle for a free and just society because we recognize that their humanity is also our own.

Thank-you and Happy Holidays

Ryan Sawatzky
The Sawatzky Family Foundation

Pilgrimage to Freedom Caravan 2011

By admin, August 29, 2011 12:57 pm

Pilgrimage to Freedom Caravan 2011

Last year, over 150 migrant workers and their allies made history by marching over fifty kilometres, an equivalent of 12 hours, from Leamington to Windsor, Ontario demanding justice, respect and dignity for the hundreds of thousands employed under the auspices of Canada’s Temporary Foreign Worker Programs. After years of harassment, intimidation and exploitation, migrant workers organized and took to the streets to stand up to these abuses.

The march called the ‘Pilgrimage to Freedom: Breaking the Chains of Indentureship’ ended in Windsor at the Tower of Freedom that is dedicated to those who travelled the underground railroad. The monument was chosen as the ending point to reflect on the connections of past and the present to slavery, indentureship and statelessness that renders racialized peoples as non-citizens. Over the last year, thousands of people have heard the testimonies and the stories that led to organizing the march. Permanent residency and citizenship status, an end to repatriations and deportations, labour law reform, equal access to social entitlements and an end to the coercive role of recruiters and contractors has inspired many others about the realities faced by migrant workers in Canada.

Migrant workers and members of Justicia for Migrant Workers have continued to organize in rural Ontario and are once again demanding that the chains of indentureship in Canada must be broken. This year the pilgrimage continues as a form of a caravan across rural Ontario.

J4MW is requesting the support of community, religious, labour and allied organizations to join us for this year’s action. Migrant workers and their allies will be calling community meetings, and organizing meetings across south western Ontario. This year’s actions will take place across several communities.  If you are interested in further information feel free to contact Justicia for Migrant Workers. Tentative dates for stops on the caravan include

September 4, 2011
Niagara on the Lake, St. Catharines and Niagara Falls
For more details on the Niagara Action click here

September 25, 2011
Windsor, Leamington, Chatham and Dresden

October 2, 2011
Simcoe – Brantford – Hamilton – Toronto

Updates will be forthcoming in the upcoming weeks describing greater details the actions and what support we are asking for this event. We are seeking financial and in kind support but mostly your presence during these dates and communities.

Background Information

More than 20, 000 migrant farm workers from Thailand, Mexico, Guatemala, the Philippines, and the Caribbean arrive in Canada to work in our fields, orchards and greenhouses every year. Many workers pay thousands of dollars in fees to recruiters to be able to work in Canada, sometimes for jobs that do not even exist.   Once they arrive, many workers face dangerous working conditions, sub-standard housing and employment standards and human rights violations. As farm workers and migrants, they have little recourse to assert their human and labour rights and are constantly faced with the threat of deportation if they voice their concerns.

Justicia for Migrant Workers is an award winning volunteer-run collective that strives to promote the rights of migrant farm workers by creating spaces for workers to lead their own movement and articulate their own voices in a country that makes renders them invisible.

Justice for Migrant Workers!
Got food? Bought local? Thank a migrant farm worker!

Background on the Pilgrimage:
Call out for last year’s march
Message of solidarity from the Coalition of Immokalee Workers

Videos:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tsC1Bt-eSJg
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JB5fb3cyQyw

Photos:
Flickr
Labour Start’s International Photo of the Year, Pilgrimage Photo Won!
Tumblr Multimedia snapshots

Print:
Toronto Star
Windsor Star

Rethinking the role of race in the modern Tea Party Movement

By admin, November 7, 2010 11:30 am

By Khalil Tian Shahyd

http://www.johntedwards.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/tea-party-photos-rp.jpg

Tea Party’s Kool Aid drinkers at a rally

The rapid rise of the Tea Party Movement has fueled ongoing debate about the potential influence of the movement on American public policy and politics. The movement’s appeal and almost exclusive attraction to working class white voters has also caused many to question the role that race has played in its emergence and in sustaining it’s anger. However much of the discussion on the role of race in the TPM tends to get lost in two perspectives; 1.) to outright deny or downplay the influence of race in the movement’s political goals altogether; which is made possible by the charges of the second perspective that, 2.)  limits itself to a catalogue list of racist actions, political slogans and associations that can be charged against individuals, Tea Party leaders and organizations[i].

Missing from the discussion is a real analysis of the role that race has in framing our national political economic and historical narrative that can explain why public policies to limit the redistributive functions of government are the focus of conservative political groups in the form of “smaller government” advocacy. Indeed, the modern Tea Party can be said to have gotten its initial inspiration from CNBC’s Rick Santelli’s outburst on the floor of the Chicago stock exchange in which he blamed the federal government for giving subsidies to “subprime” mortgage holders who “were making bad economic decisions”[ii]. Santelli claimed that he would organize a Chicago Tea Party against President Obama’s plans to provide support to homeowners facing foreclosure. Of course, “subprime” became quickly coded by race and has been associated almost completely with homeowners of color whose experiences with foreclosure and mortgage debt had to be made somehow different and distinct from the experience of “mainstream” white American households who were morally superior and thus more deserving public sympathy.

The resulting global economic downturn has only prolonged the anxiety even as the crisis spread around the world. Yet, while the U.S. is generally recognized as the model for liberal capitalism, it is social democratic Europe; who have recently gone through their own political wave of right wing ascendency partly due to demographic shifts under increasing immigration from former colonies; where the most severe fiscal austerity packages are being proposed. Still, the U.S. pushes forward with stimulus packages to spur job growth and diplomatic attempts to convince European governments to increase their own consumptive spending. The responses of the working class majorities among the U.S. and Europe are equally divergent, as the European working classes have taken to mass action against austerity measures in countries such as Greece and now France.

In the U.S. the greatest momentum among the working class majority is toward the mid-term election of more conservative politicians, that include many who would not only raise the official retirement age of American workers [to levels three years higher than that being proposed in France and Greece for instance] and some who would actually privatize the social security system effectively eliminating the program completely. In this context it is quite easy to understand why progressives in the US might be envious as they look across the Atlantic for inspiration and a glimpse of what working class responses to the economic crisis could be[iii]. However, any notion that the mass movement of left and progressive forces against austerity in France can be replicated in the US fail to appreciate the glaring distinctions between the two countries, most importantly the impact of racial/ethnic division in fueling the hegemonic status of conservative/right ideological perspectives in US political discourse[iv].

Even as many Americans tend to underestimate the real level of inequality in the United States[v]; overall tolerance for inequality is much higher in the US than in Europe, and France in particular. In fact, although a recent study has shown that Americans might prefer to live in a more socially equal society[vi], deeper analysis has shown that when race/ethnicity is made an explicit factor, acceptance [particularly by white Americans] of inequality increases. Specifically as the image of poverty becomes framed as predominantly people of color, urban African-Americans and Latino’s in particular, support among whites for redistributive policies is reduced[vii]. In fact, as Alesina and Glaeser’s research has shown, approximately 50% of the difference in support for redistributive policies between the U.S. and social democratic European countries can be explained by racial/ethnic heterogeneity[viii].

Once that is accepted it becomes clear that the reason why the working class white majority in the US will not organize and demand progressive policies, [they are in fact demanding greater austerity upon themselves as manifested through the Tea Party platforms] is that their primary aim is not to secure social rights for the working class as a unified social class identity across racial/ethnic lines but to secure the privileged rights of white working class households apart and socially distinct from workers of color. This is the only way to truly explain why Congressional Democrats have fallen short in gaining the support of this group to Republicans by 10 points in both 2006 and 2008 and watched their deficit balloon to 29 points in the recent mid-terms[ix].

But to truly understand how this came about we must review the history, in particular the New Deal and the original Capital/Labor consensus that existed since WWII but began to collapse in the mid to late 1970’s. In the national trauma that followed the Great Depression and WWII, a new “Social Structure of Accumulation” was established that intended to stabilize the relationship and quell disputes between labor and capital through a capital-labor accord or consensus[x]. The consensus, which became embodied in the New Deal and the Wager Act of 1935 [that preceded the war] created a fragmented system of social protection that actually reinforced the racial/ethnic privileges demanded by the white working class to remain socially and spatially distinct from Blacks. It ensured, [for white workers] full employment in manufacturing industries, provided substantial benefits in terms of health and retirement and a middle class standard of living that didn’t require a great deal of formal education. By limiting labor/capital negotiations on social projection benefits and wages to the firm level rather than nationally or industry wide as in solidarity bargaining strategies institutionalized across Europe, white workers in the US were able to secure social rights within racially exclusive union brokered deals for themselves without having to share those gains with African-American [and Latino] workers excluded from union protection.

African-Americans under New Deal policies experienced new forms of social exclusion from New Deal social protections for the white working class. The racially fragmented social policies laid the structural foundations for the increase in racialized income and wealth disparities in two geographically based forms. In the north, the capital/labor consensus enabled unionized white workers to deny Black workers union membership, access to quality jobs that could support social mobility into the middle class and the many social protections won through disputes against capital[xi]. In the south the compromise over New Deal legislation enabled racist state governments to determine eligibility and levels of support through unemployment and social insurance programs that effectively eliminating Black workers from eligibility since they were largely confined to agricultural and domestic labor[xii]. While African-American workers were by default excluded from social protection programs that were tied to work, when they did receive benefits they typically got lower benefits due to their confinement to the lowest wage sectors of these industries. This left African-American workers disproportionately reliant on “means-tested” programs associated with poverty, which meant that conservatives could then racialize poverty and demonize these social welfare programs for political gain as resulting from deviance rather than the structural realities of race and the predominant political economy accumulation represented by the capital-labor consensus.

Again the primary compromise of the original capital-labor consensus which stabilized the relationship between the two was that white workers would be allowed to maintain their social distance [and superiority] over Black and other workers of color due to their exclusion from the better manufacturing jobs, under funded education and exclusion from protection and advocacy by mainstream labor unions.

The Civil Rights Movement would disrupt that arrangement. Despite the fact that the national Civil Rights leadership was literally forced to abandon economic justice frames in their advocacy, or risk being blacklisted as Communist, the movement’s success had far ranging redistributive political economic implications. For instance, the Civil Rights Act barring discrimination by race in areas of employment, education and housing brought Black workers into direct competition with white unionized workers in manufacturing sectors, forced white school districts to teach Black children along side white children and allowed the emerging Black middle class to abandon socially integrated Black communities for middle class suburban neighborhoods that elevated their asset values while giving them access to wider job possibilities and social networking opportunities.

The success of the Civil Rights Movement was made possible in no small part due to the rising national productivity and high economic growth rates enjoyed throughout the post-war period supported by an expansionary Keynesian macroeconomic policy. Liberal reformers believed that continued high growth rates in the national economy would allow them to extend employment opportunities to African-American workers without asking white workers in segregated labor markets to sacrifice their perceived entitlement to exclusive social rights[xiii]. During this period, the country’s macro-economic priority was to maintain full employment [as supported by the Full Employment Act of 1946] to ensure that aggregate demand continued to grow in order to support a growing economy. According to liberal economic theory of racial reform, “blacks, who suffer more in periods of high unemployment and recession, can be most effectively helped into the economic mainstream by increasing the aggregate labor demand through a policy that boost the overall demand for goods and services in the economy”[xiv]. An expansionary government that increases public spending on public works projects, and entices businesses and consumers to spend more by reducing the cost of credit [or buying out their troubled asset portfolios] can raise the level of aggregate demand in the economy which will lead to growth and increased employment. So long as the national economy continued to grow at good pace, workers of color could be integrated into the labor force without competing directly with white workers for scarce jobs. However, in order for these policies to work, the populace must be willing to cope with the potential outcome of rising inflation due to increased deficit spending[xv]. Further, if growth slows, resulting in an increase in long term unemployment amongst white workers, this would amount to the remaining employed white workers being asked to tax themselves in order to offer inclusion and opportunity for Black workers who then compete against them for jobs. As this scenario began to unfold, it would eventually destabilize the tense peace of the post-civil rights reform era.

Empowered by the successes of the Civil Rights Movement, African-American demands for social rights to accessing public services, education and in redress of past labor discrimination meant not only a direct loss of jobs for white workers but a reduction in their socially privileged status vis-à-vis Black workers. Coupled with the inflationary pressures that followed the OPEC oil shocks of the early 70’s, white workers began to entertain political ideas that questioned the relevance of the old capital-labor consensus.

Since white workers were no longer able to rely on the power of the state to enforce their segregated social privilege and spatial distance from Black workers they eventually bought into free market ideologies that promoted “merit based” allocation of economic opportunity through liberated free market preference. They could safely express their “racial preferences” for social and spatial separation from African-Americans by supporting the establishment and indeed the exalting of private markets in areas such as housing, public education and health care. In short, they would be assured through the expansion of free market ideology only limited competition for jobs since the neoliberalization of national and local governance would deny Blacks access to quality education, poor health care and few transportation options necessary for jobs that increasingly abandoned down town urban districts for majority white suburban labor markets. There would however, be one last vestige of the Civil Rights era that would remain as a persistent thorn. Affirmative Action was instituted as national policy in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement to redress years of employment and educational discrimination by qualified Black job applicants and workers who were passed over for admissions, jobs and promotions. However, during the white backlash that began in the mid-late 70’s and culminated in the election of Ronald Reagan as president in 1980, affirmative action began to reframed as a policy of reverse discrimination and the unfair awarding of positions to “un”qualified Black applicants.

A collective myth began to emerge among working class whites that “real Americans” and true citizens didn’t rely on public services or government interference in their favor in order to secure their livelihoods. The ability of an individual or household to achieve a good quality of life through private rather than public or collective means became a symbol of true citizenship and a moral litmus test on who deserved to be serviced by the institutions of the nation. Of course this myth neglects the long history of collective organizing by labor unions and economic justice organizations to secure the labor standards that made the original capital-labor consensus possible. As important, the collective myth of individualism was effective in abstracting from public knowledge the role that government played in supporting the social development of society and in the maintenance of vital public infrastructure and services. This is how we eventually get to Tea Party activist shouting slogans such as the now iconic; “keep the government out of my medicare”. The result of all this however was the hegemonic rise of neoliberal free market social theory which began to be grafted and adopted onto any and every social issue that confronted society. The dominance of neoliberal ideology laid the ground for a rolling back of the ability and will; [by electing right wing ideologues who had no intention of enforcing the Civil Rights Act and were hostile to redistributive economics and targeted labor policies] of government to intervene on the behalf of Black and other workers of color.

The roll back of the state through deregulation also removed any protection the white working class had from the disruptions and volatility of the “free” market by weakening their own bargaining power against capital. Further, the shift from full employment policies meant there was higher unemployment and a larger reserve army of labor which [along with the retreat of unions] further weakened the bargaining power of labor and enabled capital to completely abandon the capital-labor accord that sustained the New Deal state. The result has been a higher share of national income going to profit rather than to worker’s wages.

The before tax profit rate to capital on national income reached 11.6% by 2005 the highest level since 1966. On the labor side, the share of national income going to workers fell to 56.9% of national income, its lowest levels since 1966[xvi]. Intensified global competition justified a shift from national policies that sought to redistribute economic development socially between groups and spatially between regions, forcing both to take on more entrepreneurial positions in order to attain meaningful employment under conditions of “labor flexibility” and to attract the necessary investment to sustain growth in urban markets[xvii]. Stagnating and declining real wages allowed profits to reach record highs but also meant that capital had to look abroad to emerging markets for a consumer base that could absorb it’s productive output which began to bias toward high end services in the financial and knowledge sectors rather than production of real commodities.

The fragmenting of the national economy into low wage/low skilled service sectors and high wage/high skilled technology and knowledge sectors meant that the white working class has lost its primary means of social mobility into the middle class. The traditional path through stable, socially segregated manufacturing labor has been largely outsourced or automated. Meanwhile, as inequality rose to its highest levels since the Great Depression, households had to take on more debt in order to finance their middle class consumer based lifestyles. By 2007, household debt as a percentage of disposable income rose to 128.8% from 59% in 1982[xviii].  When this became unsustainable, the asset bubbles began to burst in 2001. It was only a matter of time before the white working class would erupt and demand action on its behalf.

The modern “Tea Party” is a direct result of this history as the white working class aims to reestablish some measure of segregated social privilege and protection in a volatile free market. Without those protections the white working class cannot sustain or reproduce a white social identity as the mainstream middle class that is privileged and distinct from workers of color. And let’s be clear whites cling to racial identity not out of reverence to heritage or culture but due to the social status and privilege it confers. The deification of the “founding fathers” and the religious zealotry surrounding their interpretation of the National Constitution has more to do with their ability to claim sole ownership over the national narrative and a sincere understanding or acceptance of the document’s intended logic. All this coalesces to make the movement quite schizophrenic as they claim to want and need government action yet they despise the fact that an institution which used to be their sole possession increasingly must consider the needs of a broader group, [i.e. “we want to take our country back!”].

However, as this article argues what the Tea Party is rallying against is not “big government” per se, but the type of “universalist” government that would be advocated by the left to address, through policy the social inclusion of marginalized groups into the mainstream. So a “public option” that would “reduce” the real concerns white working class Americans have with the current state of healthcare to the concerns shared by people of color is unacceptable as it denies their right to an exalted social status and potentially will force them to share waiting room space in hospitals and doctor’s clinics with those they deem socially undesirable.

For that reason, the white working class will likely never be emotionally able to make the obvious connection between their interest and the interest of progressive political activist and communities of color. At least for some generations yet, this will be the case. So in their self-induced paranoid delusion they must shift further and further to the right in hopes that they can somehow retool the state to act in their favor while excluding “the other” from access those same social rights and privileges.

The fundamental dispute between right leaning conservatives and left leaning progressives is over this issue of inclusion. For the right, the national narrative is a country founded and established by white Anglo-Saxon Protestants and that entitles them to higher social privileges but also it entitles them to inform or demand of the rest of us of the pace, place and space of our integration into the country’s mainstream if at all. The progressive coalition is an amalgamation of liberal whites and excluded or marginalized social groups who for better are worse are attempting to come together and discuss openly the nature of their inclusion, and to rethink the narrative of the country as a diverse nation and sometimes to demand it. The willingness of the left progressive coalition to have this discussion is its strength and a weakness as it provides little comfort for those who are more attracted to the dictated outcomes that an autocratic leadership can provide. It should be no surprise then that the Tea Party Movement attracts a fairly large share of fundamentalist Christians as well.

This should help us understand how structural racism influences public policy, and in the case of the Tea Party, lead to the rise of a reactionary social movement that on the face of it continues to befuddle liberal political pundits as it appears to consistently advocate for economic positions contrary to its own interest. It’s only when we understand the white working class majority and the Tea Party by extension, are voting not against their economic interest but against a universalization of social rights that would extend to all ethnic groups. Only then can we can gain real appreciation of the task that lay before progressive advocates. It also sheds some light on the consistent charges of the white working class to the elitism of liberal white America who assumes that these groups are somehow ignorant of their true interest or are being led astray. They are much clearer in their goals than we would like to give them credit for.

Yet we have to be careful not to fall into the trap of a “race vs class” discussion that is so familiar to progressives. For at the same time, the point isn’t to call out the movement or any individuals within it as racist or bigots even as they may be. The goal is to understand how structural and institutional racism operate in a liberal free market context and more broadly how race and the politics of white racial identity act to limit the ability of progressive forces to establish a more redistributive system of governance. In short, how race acts as justification for white working class support for neoliberal policies of governance. How the persistence of racial inequality can be made consistent with rising aggregate prosperity.

For the last three or four decades, white leftist in the U.S. have been frustrated at their inability to recruit support from among the white working and middle classes. Throughout this time they have refused time and again to confront the way race is utilized consistently as a wedge in American politics to blunt the potential of progressive coalitions. Refusal to acknowledge and understand the race wedge leaves the white left ineffective as organizers of the white working leaving this group open to right wing conservative ideologies that are more comfortable utilize race as a political weapon to consistently repopulate their base of support. More importantly, inability to confront race as a means of broadening its support has not only meant the left are ineffective, but has allowed conservative and liberal ideologues to altogether eliminate a critical left perspective from the public discourse in America. In the U.S. the “left” is occupied by liberals in what is actually the political center. A quick sweep of American political talk shows that typically feature someone from the right in public debate against a liberal centrist [who is labeled as representing the left] as if a true left opinion did not exist or had no thoughts that the country should feel need to consider or respect. The delegitimizing of the left discourse in American politics as “extreme” can be contrasted with the inclusion of right wing conservative discourse that allows extremist rhetoric like that espoused in Tea Party gatherings to be treated as legitimate discourse. A great example of this is in the national debate on reforming social security as an austerity measure to cut national deficits. The right and center debate the issue within their major frames; right wing focus on individual responsibility leading to calls for privatization and centrist commitments to managerial reforms that can make the program solvent for at least another century at best. Completely absent from the debate [the left or critical class analysis] is the role that rising inequality has in leaving the program short of funding. U.S Social Security is funded by a tax on all income below $90thousand. The greater proportion of American income are held by people who make more than $90thousand cap means that larger share of national income is not being taxed to contribute to the system. Learning to confront the race wedge is critical to any strategy to develop a broader progressive coalition that can open public discourse to a critical class perspective.


[i] http://teapartynationalism.com/

[ii] http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wcvSjKCU_Zo&feature=related

[iii] Why France Matters Here Too;  http://mrzine.monthlyreview.org/2010/wolff261010.html

[iv] See: The Right Nation – Conservative Power in America by: John Micklethwait  and Adrian Wooldridge

[v] http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=130395070

[vi] Building a Better America – One Wealth Quintile at a Time by:  Michael I. Norton and Dan Ariely http://www.people.hbs.edu/mnorton/norton%20ariely%20in%20press.pdf

[vii] Fighting Poverty in the US and Europe: A World of Difference by: Alberto Alesina and Edward Glaeser

[viii] Ibid

[ix] http://www.americanprogressaction.org/issues/2010/11/election_analysis.html

[x] Social Structure of Accumulation Theory by: Victor Lippit,  in: Contemporary Capitalism and its Crises; edited by: Terrence McDonough, Michael Reich, and David Kotz

[xi] Race, Money and the American Welfare State; by: Michael K. Brown

[xii] Ibid

[xiii] The Political Economy of Hope and Fear: Capitalism and the Black Condition in America; by: Marcellus Andrews

[xiv] American Dilemma; by: Gunnar Myrdal

[xv] The Political Economy of Hope and Fear: Capitalism and the Black Condition in America; by: Marcellus Andrews

[xvi] Social Structure of Accumulation Theory by: Victor Lippit,  in: Contemporary Capitalism and its Crises; edited by: Terrence McDonough, Michael Reich, and David Kotz

[xvii] See: The Neoliberal City: Governance, Ideology and Development in American Urbanism by- Jason Hackworth

[xviii] Social Structure of Accumulation Theory by: Victor Lippit,  in: Contemporary Capitalism and its Crises; edited by: Terrence McDonough, Michael Reich, and David Kotz

Fertile land the prize that could reignite ethnic conflict in DR Congo

By admin, August 26, 2010 5:06 pm

Fertile land the prize that could reignite ethnic conflict in DR Congo

Land remains the greatest prize in North Kivu as residents grow uneasy over the return of the Congolese Tutsis from Rwanda

Young CNDP soldiers in the town of Rugare, north of Goma Young CNDP soldiers in the town of Rugare, north of Goma. Photograph: Sean SmithLeaving behind the mass of humanity that is Goma, the dirt road climbs steadily as it switchbacks through the emerald hills. Clear streams run in the valleys, and on the slopes both cows and vegetables grow fat from the lush grass and fertile soil.

For more than a decade North Kivu has been at the centre of the fighting in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Rebel groups’ and foreign armies’ lust for mineral riches is usually cited as one of the main causes of the war.

But high up in the vast Masisi territory on the Rwandan border, 50 miles and several hours’ drive north-west of Goma, the riches are not under the ground. It is the land itself that is the greatest prize.

And now – after a reduction in open conflict, if not civilian suffering – tensions over land have again risen so high that local government officials and rebel groups say they could spark a new round of ethnic conflict.

The friction stems from the planned homecoming of 54,000 Congolese Tutsis, a minority group in eastern Congo, who have been living in camps across the border in Rwanda since the mid-1990s. The repatriation was agreed by the two countries and the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) earlier this year.

Aid groups questioned the decision, since military operations against rebels are continuing in North Kivu, and nearly 800,000 people remain internally displaced there. But for many local residents, who have been deeply mistrustful of Rwanda’s Tutsi-led government since it first sent its army across the border in the late 1990s, the fears are not for the refugees’ welfare, but their own.

They believe the refugee numbers have been vastly – and deliberately – exaggerated by Rwanda in an attempt to grab their land and to consolidate the local rule of the CNDP, a powerful Tutsi-dominated rebel group turned political party that controls more of North Kivu than the government.

The fears among ethnic groups such as the Hunde, Nande, Hutu and Nyanga are so strong that some civilians and militias “are arming themselves for when the Tutsis return to try to take their land”, according to one senior government official in Masisi territory.

Meanwhile, the CNDP and Rwanda say the overall refugee figure is well over 100,000 when Congolese Tutsis living outside the camps are taken into account, adding to the confused – and highly combustible – situation.

“I can tell you for sure that if these returns happen now there will be catastrophe,” said Jason Luneno, president of the civil society of North Kivu. “People say they will protect their land until the last drop of blood is spilled.”

The Congolese Tutsis trace their history in North Kivu to before independence from Belgium in the 1960s, when their forebears crossed from Rwanda to escape famine and ethnic clashes, and adopted a new nationality.

But in 1994 the arrival in Congo of fleeing Hutu killers, who had tried to wipe out Rwanda’s Tutsi population, caused many Congolese Tutsis to seek sanctuary back across the border when Paul Kagame’s Tutsi rebel army had taken power and promised safety.

Since then, much of eastern Congo has been in crisis. The Hutu militiamen created a feared rebel group called the FDLR (Forces Democratiques de Liberation du Rwanda), which remains the major obstacle to stability in North Kivu.

In time, with backing from Rwanda, the CNDP emerged as a powerful – and wealthy – counterforce, with the stated aim of protecting local Tutsis.

Taxes and control of the illegal charcoal trade yielded – and continue to yield – millions of dollars a year, much of it channelled to powerful Rwandan political and army figures. The same elite also imported many of the cattle – or “vaches sans frontières” as locals describe them – that graze the pastures in Masisi.

Following a peace agreement with the Congolese government, CNDP forces were integrated into the Congolese national army last year. But they retained their command structures, and the party continues to run lucrative parallel administrations across much of North Kivu. Together with the Rwandan government, which claims there are tens of thousands more Congolese Tutsis living outside the camps in Rwanda, the party is leading the push for the refugees’ return.

“The CNDP is following this closely: nothing should prevent our brothers from coming home,” said Rutagarama Ntavutse, leader of the Tutsi community in North Kivu. “The refugees were cow farmers before they left, and had a lot of land. But now people have taken that land. That’s why they don’t want them back.”

But leaders of non-Rwandophone communities in North Kivu tell a different story. Alexis Tussi, chief of the Osso district in Masisi, said many of the refugees who left his area in the 1990s had sold their farms beforehand, so they had no right to the land on their return.

He also claimed that the 54,000 figure used by UNHCR was impossibly high, based on the number of people that fled at the time.

Biiri Ngulu, the king of the Biiri district, further up the road, said that unknown people had recently arrived in his district from Rwanda, claiming to be Congolese refugees, yet they could not speak the local language and did not know the geography. Separate reports from the US-based Refugees International and Enough group earlier this year also mentioned cases of Rwandans falsely claiming to be returning Congolese – a phenomenon that has further raised suspicions among local people.

“War in Masisi always runs around land,” Ngulu said. “So this can create another war.”

During a heated meeting in Goma in July, designed to ease tensions, Rwandan, Congolese and UNHCR officials agreed that traditional leaders from North Kivu would be allowed to travel to the Rwandan camps to verify the refugees’ claims of Congolese nationality.

Salif Kagni, the UNHCR’s co-ordinator in eastern Congo, said that when repatriation did occur, it would be voluntary, and would take place only in areas that were considered safe.

But many wonder where is safe. This week reports emerged of a mass rape and assault against 150 women and children in a town in Walikale, where the FDLR is strong. The ongoing Operation Amani Leo (meaning Peace Today) by the Congolese army, backed by the UN, has succeeded in driving the Hutu rebels away from some of the more populated areas in most other parts of North Kivu.

But in numerous villages in Masisi territory, displaced people said they are still too afraid to go back to their homes.

In her hilltop office in Masisi town, territory administrator Marie-Claire Bangwene Mwavita said the area was still far from secure. The FDLR rebels were less than five miles away. Mai Mai rebel groups – community-based militias – were also a threat, as their integration into the national army had failed, she said.

Indeed, Didier Bitaki, spokesman for all the Mai Mai groups in Congo, warned that a formal repatriation of people from Rwanda would be extremely provocative – and dangerous. “These people [the refugees in Rwanda] are not Congolese. When they lived here they claimed they were Rwandan. Now they want to come back. Repatriation is impossible.”

One area where the refugees might feel safe is the CNDP stronghold of Kitchanga, several hours’ drive from Masisi. Government soldiers – mainly former CNDP rebels – man a roadblock at the town entrance. Others stroll around town with AK-47s and grenade launchers. Many of the non-Tutsi residents look on warily. The soldiers take food from farmers’ fields, and force locals to carry heavy loads for them, according to residents. Now, many fear they will to lose their land if the refugees return with the CNDP’s blessing.

“The soldiers even broke my window to frighten me,” said Etienne Mabudnana, a district chief based in the town, pointing to a shattered pane. “If a chief can be frightened, what about the population?”

Leaked UN report accuses Rwanda of possible genocide in Congo

By admin, August 26, 2010 4:59 pm
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/aug/26/un-report-rwanda-congo-hutus

Unprecedented investigation by human rights commissioner says Hutu deaths ‘cannot be put down to margins of war’

Hutu refugees at UN’s Goma camp The UN’s Goma camp in 1994. The Rwandan army attacked the camp, which was full of Hutu refugees, forcing hundreds of thousands deeper into Zaire. Photograph: Jon Jones/Sygma/CorbisThe United Nations has accused Rwanda of wholesale war crimes, including possibly genocide, during years of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

An unprecedented 600-page investigation by the UN high commissioner for human rights catalogues years of murder, rape and looting in a conflict in which hundreds of thousands were slaughtered.

A draft version of the report, revealed by Le Monde and expected to be published next month, says the abuses, over a period of seven years and two invasions by Rwanda, amount to “crimes against humanity, war crimes, or even genocide” because the principal targets of the violence were Hutus, who were killed in their tens of thousands.

Among the accusations is that Rwandan forces and local allies rounded up hundreds of men, women and children at a time and butchered them with hoes and axes. On other occasions Hutu refugees were bayoneted, burned alive or killed with hammer blows in large numbers.

It is the first time the UN has published such forthright allegations against Rwanda, a close ally of Britain and the US.

The Rwandan government reacted angrily to the report today, dismissing it as “amateurish” and “outrageous” after reportedly attempting to pressure the UN not to publish it by threatening to pull out of international peacekeeping missions. Rwanda’s Tutsi leaders will be particularly discomforted by the accusation of genocide when they have long claimed the moral high ground for bringing to an end the 1994 genocide in their own country. But the report was welcomed by human rights groups, which called for the prosecution of those responsible for war crimes.

The report covers two periods: Rwanda’s 1996 invasion of the country then called Zaire in pursuit of Hutu soldiers and others who fled there after carrying out the 1994 genocide of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis, and a second invasion two years later that broadened into a regional war involving eight countries.

Rwanda’s attack on Zaire in 1996 was initially aimed at clearing the vast UN refugee camps around Goma and Bukavu, which were being used as cover by Hutu armed forces to continue the war against the new Tutsi-led government in Kigali.

Hundreds of thousands of the more than 1 million Hutus in eastern Zaire were forced back to Rwanda. Many more, including men who carried out the genocide but also large numbers of women and children, fled deeper into Zaire. They were pursued and attacked by the Rwandan army and a Zairean rebel group sponsored by Kigali, the AFDL.

The UN report describes “the systematic, methodical and premeditated nature of the attacks on the Hutus [which] took place in all areas where the refugees had been tracked down”.

“The pursuit lasted months and, occasionally, humanitarian aid intended for them was deliberately blocked, notably in the eastern province, thus depriving them of things essential to their survival,” the report said.

“The extent of the crimes and the large number of victims, probably in the several tens of thousands, are demonstrated by the numerous incidents detailed in the report. The extensive use of non-firearms, particularly hammers, and the systematic massacres of survivors after camps were taken prove that the number of deaths cannot be put down to the margins of war. Among the victims were mostly children, women, old and ill people.”

The report goes on to say that “the systematic and widespread attacks have a number of damning elements which, if proved before a competent court, could be described as crimes of genocide”.

The UN also adds that while Kigali has permitted Hutus to return to Rwanda in large numbers, that did not “rule out the intention of destroying part of an ethnic group as such and thus committing a crime of genocide”.

The Zairean army collapsed in the face of the invasion and Rwanda seized the opportunity to march across the country and overthrow the longstanding dictator, Mobutu Sese Seko. Laurent Kabila was installed as president. He promptly changed the name of the country to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Rwanda invaded again in 1998 after accusing the new regime of continuing to support Hutu rebels. The following five years of war drew in armies from eight nations as well as 21 rebel groups in a conflict that quickly descended in to mass plunder of the DRC’s minerals as well as a new wave of war crimes.

The UN report accuses Angolan forces of using the cover of the war to attack refugees from Angola’s conflict-plagued Cabinda province who had fled to the DRC. Angola is accused of “executing all those they suspected of colluding with their enemies”. Angolan soldiers also raped and looted, the UN investigation said.

International human rights groups welcomed the UN report and said it should be used to bring the accused to trial. “This is a very important report,” said Human Rights Watch. “We hope that it can form the basis for ending the impunity that has protected the people responsible for some of these crimes.”

The UN’s damning conclusions will prove hugely embarrassing to Rwanda, which is attempting to project itself as a rapidly modernising state that has put its brutal recent history behind it.

President Paul Kagame’s office attempted to dismiss the report. “It’s an amateurish NGO job, and it’s outrageous,” said a spokeswoman, Yolande Makolo. “Nobody reasonable believes that it’s helpful to anybody. The countries mentioned in the draft report have rejected it and will continue to reject it.”

Makolo did not comment on reports that Kagame last month warned the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, that Rwanda would pull its troops out of peacekeeping missions in Darfur and elsewhere if the report was made public. Le Monde said that threat was reiterated in a letter to Ban by Rwanda’s foreign minister, Louise Mushikiwabo.

Rupert Colville, spokesman for the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the leaked draft was not the final version and the report to be published next month had undergone revisions.

“It’s only a draft from about two months ago and the proper final version will come up very soon,” he said.

But if there are substantial differences, the UN is likely to stand accused of bowing to pressure from Rwanda.

Atrocities detailed in the UNHCR document seen by Le Monde

Kinigi, 7 December 1996 “Elements from the AFDL/APR killed nearly 310 civilians, many of them women and children. The troops had accused the local population, mostly Hutu, of sheltering Interahamwe [Hutu paramilitaries, who] had already left the village. At first the troops sought to reassure the civilians [whom they gathered together] in several buildings, including the adventist church and the primary school. In the afternoon, troops entered these buildings and killed the villagers with hoes or axes to the head.”

Luberizi, 29 October 1996 “Elements from the AFDL/APR/FAB [Burundi's armed forces] killed around 200 male refugees. The victims were part of a group of refugees told by the troops to regroup so that they could be repatriated to Rwanda. The troops separated the men from the rest of the group and killed them with bayonets or bullets. The bodies were then buried in mass graves [near to] the church.”

Bwegera, 3 November 1996 “They burned alive 72 Rwandan refugees in Cotonco (cotton company) headquarters, one kilometre from the village.”

Mutiko, December 1996 “Special units from the AFDL/APR started to hunt down refugees, killing several hundred. Once they had been intercepted at barriers put up by the troops, the victims were given food and told to get into UN lorries waiting at the exit of the village. The victims were then taken out on to the road, then killed with blows to the head with canes, hammers and axes. The troops encouraged the local population to take part in the killings.”

Basil Davidson’s soul cannot rest in peace

By admin, August 26, 2010 3:57 pm

http://www.jamaicaobserver.com/columns/Basil-Davidson-s-soul-cannot-rest-in–peace_7832155

PATRICK WILMOT

Thursday, August 26, 2010

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After 95 years, the last of which were spent in the fog of unknowing, this great but simple man died in July. He trekked through the jungles with Mondlane, Machel, Cabral and Neto, and now he has joined them in that immortality of the spirit created for those who rebelled, who said no to tyranny and oppression. Before his African odyssey he had evaded Nazi storm troopers hunting Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia.

As a son of the privileged, a European whose forebears were members of the imperial navy, he could have become a member of the aggressors who benefited from the labour of masses oppressed by colonial Europeans. But in a rejection, later described by Cabral as “committing class suicide”, Davidson gave up a future assured him by his membership in the ruling class, and joined his fate to that of the oppressed.

In this he was following in a long line of “rebels’”who believed that the future belonged to those whose prospects had been blighted by the nihilism of their ancestors – Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Chou, Gandhi, Nehru. Later Garvey, Du Bois, Castro, Guevara, Mandela, Nkrumah, Fanon, Mondlane, Neto, Cabral and Machel joined the ranks of those who preferred the terror, risks, uncertainties and loneliness of rebellion to the comforting illusions of the certainties of the predators.

Literature on freedom fighters was rare, and Basil Davidson’s works were a welcome contribution to understanding why it was the children of the oppressed, offered the opportunity to join the party of their parents’ oppressors, had turned to lead rebellions. In the Caribbean it had been slaves, given rare benefits in the system, such as Toussaint, Sharpe, Bogle and Nanny, who had sacrificed themselves for their comrades who remained in shackles.

In the mid-1970s when the Angolan war against Western imperialism was at its height, I received a warm letter from Davidson, congratulating me for an article I had written in The New Nigerian. Davidson was in Kano working on the great series on African civilisation he was making for British television. I was impressed because at the time he was someone who had been in the struggle for decades, and had acquired fame even among his enemies, and I was an obscure young lecturer at Ahmadu Bello University.

When I was abducted and expelled from Nigeria by Ibrahim Babangida in 1988, I received a sympathetic note from Davidson, while many of my “comrades” in Nigeria were oiling the nether regions of the “Maradona of the Niger” with fulsome praises. Davidson kept in touch, until he was struck down by Alzheimer’s, never afraid to stand up and be counted among those who defended principles and fought against corruption and barbarism.

As many of my former students who have remained faithful to these principles, and some who have not, will remember, Davidson’s books were required reading for those who wanted to understand the dynamics of neo-colonialism and decolonisation. If they had continued to follow the path of his thinking, they would not now preside over a country noted for poverty, disorder, kidnapping and advanced-fee fraud.

Without Davidson’s works it is unlikely that the world would have become acquainted with the lives and struggles of men in the obscure colonies of the most backward and dictatorial of European colonial powers. Western imperialism regarded these Portuguese colonies, Namibia, and apartheid South Africa as part of its “sphere of influence”, which had to be protected from communism by armies, air forces and navies. Portugal was a member of NATO, and its troops were equipped by factories in the USA, Britain, France and Belgium.

Apartheid and colonialism were sanctified as part of the West’s “civilising mission”, and freedom fighters were defined as “terrorists” , “dupes of communism”, and “rebels” against democracy, who deserved to be exterminated. Davidson’s works helped to transform this dominant perspective of imperialism, which glorified the assassination of Lumumba, Mondlane and Cabral as victories against communism, and would have justified the massacres of Sharpeville and Luanda as necessities for imposing order.

For those who still have copies of Davidson’s works, and the works of Fanon, Cabral, Guevara and others, it would be useful to look again on their analyses of why the people fought, and made the necessary sacrifices against an imperialism which condemned them and their children to perpetual slavery. The people fought not for ideas which existed in the heads of individuals, but to improve the conditions of their lives.

The people in the slums of “independent” countries did not fight to destroy British, French, or Portuguese oppression, to replace European masters with African ones. In a sense, Davidson was lucky to have spent the last years of his life unable to see what had become of the countries he helped to “liberate”. The slum dwellers of Luanda and the victims of narco-dictators in Guinea (Bissau) cannot appreciate the anti-colonial rhetoric which was used to mobilise them in the struggle. Basil Davidson’s soul cannot rest in peace when he surveys the mass suffering which persists amidst shameful, European-style excess.

Patrick Wilmot, who is based in London, is a writer and commentator on African affairs for the BBC, Sky News, Al-Jazeera and CNN. He’s a visiting professor at Ahmadu Bello and Jos universities in Nigeria.

Haiti: Hanging with Rea Dol at the site of the future Sopudep School

By admin, August 2, 2010 12:58 pm
May 18, 2010

by Wanda Sabir

http://sfbayview.com/2010/haiti-hanging-with-rea-dol-at-the-site-of-the-future-sopudep-school/

Building the wall of the new school – Photo: Wanda Sabir

Rea Dol and Dodo were at the airport with a sign with my name when I arrived. We then headed to the building site, where a wall is going up around the perimeter. [Rea is the principal of SOPUDEP School in Port au Prince, founded as part of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s National Literacy Project, and she’s building a new school to replace the one that was damaged in the earthquake.]When I left six days later, it was about a third completed. Students and family members, as well as employees, are up early at the site working. Occasionally volunteers and other important visitors like former mayors also drop by to speak to this wonderful, dynamic woman, Rea Dol.

If the last earthquake was 200 years ago, then it seems like it marked the end of slavery and the beginning of a Black nation. Does this earthquake signal something similar?

There’s no active government in Haiti. President René Préval is missing, and the people are on their own, literally, which could be a good thing, until one sees nude madmen walking down busy streets.

“What would happen if the person threatened someone’s safety?” my friend asked Thursday when we saw another nude man sauntering down the busy evening street. Just around the corner we saw a policeman. Would he have the training to handle such an incident? I can recall so many times in the San Francisco Bay Area where the mentally ill were beaten and sometimes killed because police used excessive force in responding to calls for help.

What systems are in place in Haiti to handle the obvious shock and post-traumatic behaviors victims have experienced now that family and friends are lost, homes and possessions destroyed in an earthquake of a magnitude not seen in 200 years?

The Association of Black Psychologists made a recent trip to Haiti to take emergency relief supplies, but what of the short and long term psychological assistance to help the country heal? Are such conversations taking place and who will implement the resolutions?

California has earthquakes. Japan has earthquakes, Mexico has earthquakes, but not Haiti. Not in a long time. People didn’t know what to do: run outside or stay inside? Many ran indoors, while othesr already outside and clear of any falling masonry ran indoors to their deaths.

The structural integrity of a house and the safety of those inside also depended on whether or not one’s neighbor’s house was also stable. Many people I spoke to lost family to apartment buildings or houses nearby collapsing on them.

As we drove along Delmas 33, a busy thoroughfare in heavy traffic, a man stood on a leaning building relaxed, his arms holding a collapsed roof, his legs spread, feet on the porch just below – the entire structure, caved roof and housing tumbling down the side of the hill. It looked really unstable, yet there he stood, casually observing the traffic below on the street.

Driving along, Yvon looked up and asked the rhetorical question: Doesn’t he realize what danger he’s in?

In Cap-Haïtien I met a man in a store, a friend of my new daughter, Monica, who spoke of arriving home and evacuating his wife and two daughters. Afterwards the children were afraid to be indoors. They wanted to leave the country, so when he was able, he put his family on a plane to New York. Now he is alone working and sending them money.

Abel spoke of not having any money to go anywhere, living in his car until he got money for gas to drive to Cap-Haïtien where he is now working. He gave his wife’s car to a NGO working on earthquake relief.

Yvon said he’d put his car in a shop and the garage collapsed and there went the car. Insurance?

I could see the anguish in Abel’s face as he relived those moments. He spoke of how loud noises made him jump and how he often woke up from nightmares. When asked if he’d gotten any psychotherapy, he didn’t know where he might get such help. I told him I would connect him with some people I know in New York who might be able to help.

OK, so maybe mental health is not an immediate priority, because if it was there would be systems in place with access. On the other hand, perhaps mental health is a priority, but in a situation as chaotic as a country without leadership can be, perhaps folks are just trying to stay afloat until immediate needs like housing and food and water are met.

Rea Dol at the site of the new SOPUDEP School – Photo: Wanda Sabir

My hostess, Rea Dol, has teachers who are living on the streets and in their cars since the earthquake. I was happy I could leave my tent and sleeping bag, Imodium and toilet tissue. It wasn’t a lot, my resources are limited, but every little bit certainly helps.Tuesday evening Rea and I went over to a collective consisting of nonprofit organizations like SOIL, which puts in toilets for people free of charge, and connected with Paul, a Haitian American, who brought her tents for those staff members who are homeless, along with shoes and a ball. He’d just arrived from Ft. Lauderdale that day. He spent the night with us.

I took some of the shoes the next day to Cap-Haïtien with BC or Junior, who lives with Rea’s family, Wednesday morning on the bus. BC’s from Cap-Haïtien and was excited to see his mother and brothers.

My daughter sent bubbles and Mardi Gras beads, necklaces and rings and crayons and coloring books and spinning tops and balls and tablets and pens and playing cards. The adults liked the party beads. We just wanted to take a little something to lift people’s spirits.

Considering the large amount of funds raised here in America, I expected people to have tents and support services three months after the earthquake, this Monday, April 12, 2010. How long does it take to put such systems in place?

In many neighborhoods, teams of people in yellow t-shirts sweep the streets, but to clear the debris one needs bulldozers, the kind that unconscionably are used to demolish houses in Gaza. In Haiti, though, the tractors and other heavy equipment would help people move on with their lives.

I have never lived in a place where the government supports random gunfire on citizens who do not support current leadership, but such happened in Cité Soleil in 1999 and again in 2004. It’s a community located on Haiti’s waterfront, what one might call prime property, yet there is no investment in the people before or since President Aristide. His government built a school and nearby started construction of apartment buildings which are standing. We didn’t know if they were occupied when we drove by, but they certainly did not suffer any damage.

The home of sugar plantations, the major factory was bought out a company which then closed it down and started importing the crash crop in the 1970s. At that time the company was a major anchor in the economy of the area. One can imagine the hit the community felt once it closed; also affected were the railways which transported the goods.

This reminds me of what happens throughout America when urban removal is the goal – urban removal a code word for Black removal – something that has been going on since 1865, the legal end of slavery. The only thing is, Haitians don’t leave their land or communities; they just hang on.

Cité Soleil, the infamous city – one of the largest ghettos in Haiti, with perhaps the country’s largest population in such a small geographical area – is also the place that has a love for President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas movement, measurably so great, it makes the knees of the political machine quake. Target of raids where children, elderly and adults were killed, their bodies covering the sidewalks and hallways and staircases, bedrooms and homes.

The buildings looked like loofah sponges, bullet holes covering the entire surface, like pock marks. The holes were so distracting and distressing recent attempts to spruce up the neighborhood has had crews filling in the holes – I hear it looks better. Hm? But if one knows where to look, evidence of the war is still there.

It is here where infrastructure would be a good thing. However, if the political system is apathetic and ineffective, then complaining about the health and welfare of the economy and community would do nothing because the citizen’s review or complaint department is run by the very people committing the crimes.

For many Haitians it’s almost like, hm, I’ll do what I can without access to resources because I can’t wait for help, help is too unreliable, too costly – not just monetarily; it could be too time consuming – and too slow.

Rea Dol is rebuilding her school, Pastor Frank is rebuilding his school, one of 15, Regine Zamor is getting ready to open her center for street kids next week, Jean Yvon Kernizan is expanding his afterschool program from 86 to 300 served, So Anne prepares a meal for her community daily, people who are homeless and hungry.

Making do in the rubble – Photo: Wanda Sabir

I only saw one line for a food giveaway the entire week I was in Haiti. I saw a lot of people going for water at the spigot or creek a few times a day, young and old, with different size containers. Most folks didn’t have indoor plumbing or electricity, but they were making do and doing very well at that.I saw huge blocks of ice, yes, for ice boxes. I’d heard of ice boxes, but hadn’t seen one before. The charcoal I’d heard about, its use for heating homes and for cooking food, and the soil erosion from cutting down the trees to make the charcoal came to mind.

There are things good government supports like public education, public safety and public health. The Haitian government is falling down on all of these things; is this the reason why former U.S. President Bill Clinton is in charge of rebuilding Haiti?

Why can’t the grassroots organizers get the funds so they can mobilize their communities and rebuild Haiti themselves? How would Clinton know what Haiti needs or wants? Give the people the money and leave them alone.

The money will create jobs and provide incentives to those without hope.

Many of the people I spoke to mentioned how President Aristide’s presence would do much to lift the spirits of his people. If people knew President Aristide were coming, Jean Ristil, Cité Soleil activist, journalist, said, they would start cleaning up the streets now.

In a large field in Cité Soleil, earthquake displaced residents are swatting on privately owned land. If there were an infrastructure in place, government could compensate the landowner, so that he wouldn’t make the temporary residents on his land feel unwelcome – dumping mounds of rocks in the middle of fields near people’s tents – aesthetically uninviting and humiliating.

Did I mention the tents? More correctly all the people donating money to “worthy causes” like the Red Cross etc. – do not think for a moment I believe the Red Cross is a worthy organization, certainly not the United Nations – should have been told that the tent is a piece of plastic held in place with sticks in all for corners. I have never seen a shanty town, but I think Cité Soleil (Kreyol: Site Solèy, English: Sun City) qualifies.

“The vast majority of residents of Cité Soleil remained loyal to President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his Fanmi Lavalas movement. Unlike Haiti’s unelected past governments, Lavalas governments invested money into parks, literacy programs and medical centers in Cité Soleil,” says Wikipedia.

This is a running commentary. I kept a daily journal and will post the day’s musings and photos here as well. The huge tent city is a potential disaster waiting to happen. Young girls might get accosted by predators, which has been documented by visitors.

I was heartbroken to see so many children trying to make a buck for a meal – washing cars as they waited at a traffic light. I am glad there are so many people, like Jean Ristil Jean Baptiste, 29, www.freewebs.com/koleZepol, and Rea Dol, www.sopudep.org, who care about these children, many in Cité Soleil, orphaned when the shootouts occurred and their parents were killed.

As I stood in line at Immigration once we’d landed in Ft. Lauderdale, I was talking to Sam, who was in Haiti to check on his family in Jacmel. He was telling me that he lost I think eight relatives in the quake and was looking at rebuilding the family home at minimally $40,000. I told him about Constantine Alatzas, Institute for Creative Evolution: Tools for Peace, who is working with Rea Dol in designing a sustainable structure for her new school. The key is AERBLOCK, a light weight material which is earthquake and flood or hurricane resistant used in the designs proposed by Alatzas.

As we speak, I happen to mention the people I visited this past week, one of them Jean Yvon, and Roselene in the line just ahead of me says, Jean Yvon is my cousin. I’m like wow. Well, Yvon is Rea’s friend. Both Sam and Roselene know Yvon, but not each other. I give both of them Yvon’s information as well as that of Constantine. Sam also knows Jen and the project she has with kids with cameras.

Talk about small world. As I travel the African Diaspora, I am finding my role as facilitator of collaborations clear. It happened in Haiti, it happened in Dakar and The Gambia to a lesser degree, and it always happens here. I see connections which might not be obvious and easily connect the dots between people, organizations and projects. Not everything is followed up on; the people I am joining are very busy and always short staffed. But sometimes they do … at least I hope they do. However, even if they don’t, the idea that they are not alone in the community building processes is I’m sure a boost to morale.

Bay View Arts Editor Wanda Sabir can be reached at wsab1@aol.com. Visit her website at www.wandaspicks.com for an expanded version of Wanda’s Picks, her blog, photos and Wanda’s Picks Radio. Her shows are streamed live Wednesdays at 6-7 a.m. and Fridays at 8-10 a.m. and archived on the Afrikan Sistahs’ Media Network, at http://www.blogtalkradio.com/wandas-picks.

The betrayal of Haiti

By admin, August 2, 2010 11:07 am

Analysis
: Ashley Smith

Conditions in Haiti are still appalling six months after the quake, reports Ashley Smith.

August 2, 2010

SIX MONTHS after Haiti’s catastrophic earthquake, the promises of the world’s most powerful governments to provide billions in aid to one of the world’s poorest and weakest governments have been betrayed.

There was an immediate outpouring of solidarity after the quake struck Haiti on January 12–people from the U.S. to Palestine and beyond gave to NGOs and charities, even when they couldn’t afford much themselves.

At the end of March, the United Nations held an international conference for donors to fund the rebuilding of Haiti, where dozens of countries promised almost $10 billion over the next few years and more than $5 billion for the first 18 months of emergency reconstruction.

But the record of the world powers is a stark contrast to the generosity of their citizens. The U.S., France, Canada and the UN–not to mention a range of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with connections in high places–have done next to nothing to provide alternative shelter to refugees. They have failed to remove the rubble, let alone begin reconstruction, and they reneged on their pledges to deliver aid.

Instead, Haiti’s earthquake is being used as an excuse to ratchet up a neoliberal economic plan for the country and to bolster the now 6-year-old UN occupation to repress any resistance.

Meanwhile, the situation in Haiti remains dire. The earthquake killed some 300,000 people, including an estimated one-quarter of government workers. It destroyed countless houses, leaving 1.5 million people homeless, and it collapsed the National Palace and wrecked a majority of other government buildings. Overall, the Inter-American Development Bank estimates that the quake caused between $8 billion and $13 billion in damage.

Six months later, those 1.5 million people are still homeless, struggling to survive in 1,300 refugee camps. Astonishingly, 232,000 of these homeless are still without tents or tarps, according to reports. Only one-quarter of the camps are managed by the either the Haitian government or aid organizations.

According to the Montreal Gazette’s grim account [1], Port-au-Prince:

still looks like a war zone…The camps erected by hundreds of thousand of Haitians in the hours after their lives were shattered are becoming permanent slums.

Late afternoon torrential rains soak belongings and leave lake-size puddles in which mosquitoes breed, then spread malaria. Deep, raspy coughs can be heard everywhere. Scabies and other infections transform children’s soft skin into irritating red bumpy rashes. Bellies are swelling and hair turning orange from malnutrition. Vomiting and diarrhea are as common as flies.

While injuries from the quake have healed into scars, there are countless accidents from the chaotic living conditions–toddlers falling into vats of boiling rice or beans, people breaking limbs on chunks of concrete and wire, entire families poisoned by carbon monoxide as they cook in their tents. Around the city, the stench of rotting bodies has been replaced by the stench of rotting piles of garbage.

Neither governments, international institutions nor NGOs have made a dent in constructing alternatives to these camps. Indeed, the one major alternative camp that has been established exposes how the Haitian elite is exploiting the crisis for profit.

The Haitian government, in cooperation with the U.S. military, began construction in Corail Cesselesse, nearly 15 miles from Port-au-Prince with the aim of building a new city of 300,000. It appointed Gerard Emile “Aby” Brun, the president of Nabatec Development, to oversee the transfer of some 7,000 people from a squatter camp on the Petionville Golf Course to the new location.

According to the Associated Press’ Jonathan Katz, Brun “is also a lead negotiator with South Korean garment firms to build factories that Haitian officials say will likely go into Corail Cesselesse. The camp he set up is a potential source of workers for those factories, which can take advantage of generous U.S. import laws for Haitian-assembled textiles.”

However, the camp is located on a flood plain with no vegetation to provide shelter from the scorching sun or the torrential storms of hurricane season. An Oxfam worker told the New York Times that the plan for Corail Cesselesse “does not represent clear strategic thinking on the part of the government. It’s like Sudan. There’s not a tree in sight. And people feel marooned. They are having issues finding income-generating activities, and soon, they are going to have trouble feeding themselves.”

Meanwhile, in Port-au-Prince and its surrounding towns, despite the promises, ruined houses, hospitals and buildings remain as they were the day after the earthquake.

So far, only 5 percent of the estimated 26 million cubic yards of rubble from the earthquake has been removed. The New York Times reports that “experts say it would take a thousand trucks three to five years to clear away the wreckage, though fewer than 300 trucks are hauling now.” Donor countries, NGOs and the Haitian government have only managed to build 5,500 hurricane-proof shelters.

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LEADING FIGURES in the relief effort–like Bill Clinton, co-chair of the Interim Haiti Reconstruction Commission (IHRC)–claim that the failed promises of reconstruction are the result of the enormity of the disaster and the international economic crisis that depleted resources available for Haiti.

But these are excuses. If Haiti were a priority, the great powers would find the money. Since it isn’t, they have only promised the paltry sum of $10 billion. Compare that to the amount the U.S. spends on its real priorities–for example, the Pentagon, which is $663 billion for 2010. And the scale of the disaster, rather than being an excuse for inaction, should be the reason for a massive mobilization of resources for reconstruction.

Rather than step up the relief effort, donor countries–with the help of the Western media–are scapegoating the Haitian government to deflect attention for how little they’ve done.

For example, they blame Haitian President René Préval for failing to overcome problems with land tenure and to secure plots for new housing. But most of the big landowners are allies of the U.S. Thus, the U.S. government is in a better position than the powerless Préval administration to compel landowners to donate for new construction.

This isn’t to leave Préval off the hook. He has been a pathetic figure, disappearing in the wake of the earthquake and, despite grumblings about violations of sovereignty, providing Haitian cover for imperial betrayal.

For example, on the July 12 six-month anniversary of the quake, while the capital city sat in ruins–and its people in vast new tent slums–Préval gave out medals to honor representatives from countries and NGOs that have done so little to rebuild Port-au-Prince.

But to blame Préval as the primary reason for the dysfunctional condition of the Haitian state is absurd. The U.S., France and Canada as well as the UN are directly responsible for undermining the capacity of the Haitian state to coordinate reconstruction, let alone future development of the country.

The betrayal of Haiti began centuries ago. After Haiti’s successful slave revolution won independence from France in 1804, European powers undermined every attempt by the country to chart an independent course of development in the interests of its people. Famously, France demanded that Haiti pay–in today’s dollars–$21 billion in reparations for the French slavemasters’ loss of their property–that is, their slaves.

Since the 1980s, the U.S. has imposed neoliberal policies–what Haitians have called the “Plan of Death”–that compromised the state’s ability to run the economy. For example, the U.S. compelled former President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his then-ally Préval to privatize state-owned companies and cut tariffs on rice imports. These policies increased unemployment among urban workers and undercut Haitian rice production to the extent that the country today is dependent on subsidized American rice. As a result, per capita income has fallen by one-fifth–from $600 in 1980 to $480 today.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and its international allies collaborated in neutering every attempt to use the Haitian state to improve the conditions of impoverished peasants and the urban poor. For example, Aristide was forced out of his elected position as president twice by coups in 1991 and 2004–to prevent social reform in the interests of Haitian peasants, workers and the poor.

Since the second coup, the Haitian state has not been in control of the country in any way. The U.S., other imperial powers, and international financial institutions are running Haiti’s economy, and the UN, through its misnamed United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), has occupied the country since 2004, ruling it in traditional neocolonial fashion.

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NOW THESE powers need a scapegoat because, after all the fanfare that accompanied the donor conferences, they have failed to deliver.

Only Brazil, Norway, Estonia and Australia have submitted all their promised donations to the IHRC. The Washington Post reported that donors have only supplied 2 percent of the $5.3 billion promised for the critical first 18 months of emergency reconstruction. According to the UN Human Development Program, the IHRC itself has only dispensed $506 million–only 9 percent of the funds budgeted for 2010 through mid-2011.

The U.S. has played a central role in obstructing aid to Haiti. The Senate held up the U.S. contribution of $2.8 billion, with Republican Sen. Richard Lugar playing a key role in blocking this aid package. Lugar insists that until Préval can ensure free and fair elections–translation, ones that pro-U.S. candidates are sure to win–and reduce barriers to private investment, the U.S. should not release its full contribution to the IHRC.

As a result of such maneuvers, the IHRC has only $90 million in its coffers. No one should be holding their breath until more arrives. The world’s main governments have a dismal track record on fulfilling humanitarian promises for Haiti. A previous UN donor conference for Haiti in April 2009 got pledges of $400 million, but only 15 percent of the funds ever materialized.

What money has been spent by the IHRC shows that the world’s most powerful government care more about padding the pockets of their own corporations. Beverly Bell of the Institute for Policy Studies found that huge sums of money have:

gone right back to donor nations, as with the $0.40 on every U.S. government aid dollar that paid for the U.S. military presence in Haiti for, at least, the first two months after the quake. Untold dollars go to U.S. firms, like the agribusiness corporations, whose surplus rice is being purchased by USAID to deliver as aid…

There are the fees paid to a small army of consultants working for foreign governments and international agencies…Then there is graft, corruption and poor planning, all of which further redirects aid dollars away from desperate earthquake survivors.

The UN has also failed Haiti through the crisis. UN officials live apart from the Haitian masses in relative luxury. In a revealing public relations disaster, the UN spent $10 million to rent two cruise ships, the Ola Esmeralda and the Sea Voyager–dubbed the “Love Boat” by UN staff–to house officials from the World Food Program and MINUSTAH.

Edmond Mulet, the former Guatemalan diplomat who heads the UN mission, told reporters that the ships are a reward for the UN staff’s hard work. “It is the least we could do for them,” he said. “They are working 14, 16 hours a day. The place was pulverized. Living conditions are really appalling.”

Richard Morse, the Haitian American musician and owner of Port-au-Prince’s Hotel Oloffson, captured the message that the UN is sending in a statement to reporters:

If the UN is living on a cruise ship, it is a perfect metaphor for how they are viewed in the country. If they think that quake refugees should be living on cruise ships, then they should get cruise ships for the Haitian people, that’s all I’m saying. Unless, of course, I’m misinterpreting this, and they really are better than the Haitians.

MINUSTAH, meanwhile, has been occupying the country since 2004, with forces drawn from Brazil and several other countries, including Israel. Between them, Mulet, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Brazilian Gen. Luiz Guilherme Paul Cruz have increased the UN occupation force to 8,940 soldiers and 4,391 police officers.

The UN occupation costs more than $51 million per month. UN troops don’t speak Haitian Creole. In concert with the U.S.-trained Haitian police, they patrol poor neighborhoods, seizing political prisoners and repressing dissent.

Just as they did in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake, foreign governments and the media have played up the threat of violent crime in the refugee camps to justify the increased troop presence. Instances of rape and sexual violence against women are undoubtedly a real problem. But neither the UN nor the Haitian police are capable of solving them.

In fact, a variety of human rights investigations have documented human rights violations by both the Haitian police and MINUSTAH forces. As recently as 2007, MINUSTAH expelled 114 Sri Lankan soldiers after allegations of rape and child abuse. In the current crisis, Haitian women have complained that UN soldiers and police have demanded sex in exchange for food and aid.

To really address the causes of violence and rape in the camps, the international powers would have to address the horrific living conditions in the camps–the very thing they have avoided. Spending $51 million a month on soldiers and cops will only increase violence–the violence of repressive forces used against desperate poor people, especially when they protest their deteriorating conditions.

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IN JUNE, protests swept Haiti in opposition to the MINUSTAH occupation and the Préval administration. Graffiti spray-painted on the ruins of Port-au-Prince denounces the UN, the U.S., NGOs and Préval.

Many of the protests and much of the graffiti calls for the return of Aristide. They also object to Preval’s handpicked electoral commission, which is expected to ban the most popular political party in the country, Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas, and thereby rig the election scheduled for November 28.

MINUSTAH officials have made it clear that their main worry is the growing resistance, and their soldiers have attacked demonstrations. For example, on May 23, UN soldiers went on a rampage in the massive refugee camp opposite National Palace, firing tear gas and rubber bullets for hours. On the same day, MINUSTAH soldiers stormed the University of Haiti, firing more tear gas and rubber bullets into a student protest.

The hope for Haiti lies in this renewed resistance to colonial occupation. Only resistance can compel international forces to deliver on promised aid–and make sure that aid serves the interests of the Haitian peasants, workers and urban poor. As Jacqueline Cherilus, a 22-year-old medical student at Université Lumière, told a reporter:

Americans and everyone who’ve sent tents: We’re tired of that stuff, those same tents and tarps. We need construction. You see how strong the rains are becoming? Tents can’t resist that rain. How long can we live in tents and tarps. You can’t live for two or three years under a tarp. We need houses. We’re going to have hurricanes soon and flooding.

The aid is poorly organized and poorly divided. There are lots of people who don’t receive anything. To have real aid, we need social change.”

Outside of Haiti, activists must stand in solidarity with the emerging protest movement against the occupation and for development in the interests of Haitian peasants, workers and urban poor.

We must make several demands. First of all, we should support Haiti’s right to self-determination. Haitians and their government should be in control of the reconstruction of Port-au-Prince and the rest of the country, not the imperial powers, their corporations, the UN and the NGOs.

We should call for the promised aid to be immediately released to the Haitian state so that it can improve its capacity to deliver housing, health care and education. We must also call for an end to the UN occupation of Haiti and for an end to its ban on the return of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Moreover, Aristide’s party, Fanmi Lavalas, the most popular political force in the country, must be allowed to participate in upcoming elections.

On top of the pittance of aid, they have promised, the U.S., France and Canada should pay reparations for the damage they have done to Haiti. France can begin with repaying $21 billion it extorted from the country when it won independence.

Only when Haitians are allowed to determine their own destinies in economics and politics will Haiti be able to develop in the interests of its people.

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Partners In Health Testifies in Washington, July 27 2010

By admin, July 27, 2010 5:37 pm

Read this report on the CHAN website at: http://www.canadahaitiaction.ca/node/498

WASHINGTON DC–Today, Dr. Paul Farmer, co-founder of Partners In Health and Chair of the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Loune Viaud, Director of Operations and Strategic Planning of Zanmi Lasante (ZL), the Haitian sister organization of Partners In Health, testified at a Capitol Hill hearing hosted by the Congressional Black Caucus, “Focus on Haiti: The Road to Recovery – A Six Month Review.”

Below is the text of their testimony. You can also read the testimonies by downloading each one as a Pdf:

Pdf of Paul Farmer testimony

Pdf of Loune Viaud testimony:

Testimony of Paul Farmer

Paul Farmer: Co-founder of PIH, Chair of the Department of Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Chief of the Division of Global Health Equity at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, and Deputy Special Envoy for Haiti at the United Nations

1. Acute-on-chronic

The six-month anniversary of the earthquake, which many Haitians have taken to calling, simply, “the catastrophe,” will cause soul-searching in some circles, grim determination in others, and bitter recriminations from still other quarters. I will not contribute here to these veins of commentary, although we all know they’re important and inevitable. Instead I will use my time to comment on a few large but soluble problems now before us and to make two distinct and complementary recommendations. Indeed, most of these problems have long faced all those of good will who seek to stand in solidarity with the Haitian people, which is why, as physicians, we know that what happened on January 12th is aptly described as an “acute-on-chronic” event.

Though by some reports and some “macro” indicators there had been slow improvements in Haiti in the year prior to the quake, the problems we’re struggling with today are longstanding, if much aggravated by the worst natural disaster to befall the world in recent centuries. Whether we look at health, education, potable water, or safe, affordable housing, we can draw similar conclusions: first, great weakness in the public sector makes it exceedingly difficult to deliver basic services at significant scale; second, not enough of the pledged earthquake relief has reached those in greatest need.

Although Haitians are rightly tired of having their country labeled “the poorest in the western hemisphere,” it is nonetheless true that the country has poor health indicators, was a few years ago deemed the most water-insecure nation in the Americas, has low levels of literacy, and now, with up to 1.6 million in IDP camps, has enormous, almost overwhelming, housing instability. Into the breach have come a large number of well-intentioned NGOs, which have sought, with some local success, to provide basic health and educational services, and, on an even smaller level, access to potable water and improved housing. I am myself from this sector, since I’ve been a life-long NGO volunteer and work for a U.S. medical school as a teacher and clinician. But I would like to argue here that my own earnest engagement in this arena has taught me that one of the primary tasks of development assistance, including that delivered by NGOs, must be to strengthen Haitian public-sector capacity, especially in the arenas of health, education, water, and housing—which some refer to as basic social and economic rights. Our historical failure to do so is one of the primary reasons that trying to help the public sector now is like trying to transfuse whole blood through a small-gauge needle or, in popular parlance, to drink from a fire hose.

Why the public sector? Before answering, I’m not suggesting here that NGOs and the private sector are not part of the solution; far from it. But there is a pragmatic and humble point to be made here: the profusion of NGOs—and some have estimated that Haiti, a veritable Republic of NGOs, has more of them per capita than any other country in the world—has not led to adequate progress in provision of basic services to all who need them nor to a functioning safety net for the poorest. Case in point: over 85% of primary and secondary education in Haiti is private, and Haiti is, as mentioned, plagued by illiteracy; over 500,000 school-age children were not in school prior to the earthquake.

There are transient ironies, too. Sometimes bursts of attention can improve a terrible situation; some blood does get through the too-small needle. Take water insecurity: by some reports, it has lessened since the earthquake led many groups to focus on bringing clean water to the displaced. One survey in Port-au-Prince suggested that diarrheal diseases had by last month dropped 12% below the pre-earthquake level. But is the massive importation of bottled water readily sustained? Is it the way to improve water security for all?

There is also a more philosophical point behind a plea for attention to the public sector: How can there be public health and public education without a stronger government at the national and local levels?

2. Why?

I have argued that the quake dramatically worsened a bad situation. I could focus on statistics, noting that some 17-20% of federal employees were killed or injured in the quake, or that 27 of 28 federal buildings were destroyed. And I would note that few public personnel were able to perform well within the buildings prior to the earthquake. Some of the best doctors and nurses I know are struggling to perform in the public sector without the tools of our trade—diagnostics and medications, for example, but also anything approaching adequate salaries. In a hearing like this one, it is important to ask why this is so, and I have previously done so before both houses of our Congress. It is not a pretty story, for the decline of Haiti’s already feeble civil service is tightly tied, and has been for a century, to internecine strife but also to U.S. policies. Other powerful countries have played unhelpful roles, too.

Let me take only the last decade. Beginning in 2000, the U.S. administration sought, often quietly, to block bilateral and multilateral aid to Haiti, having an objection to the policies and views of the administration of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, elected by over 90% of the vote at about the same time a new U.S. president was chosen in a far more contested election. How much influence we had on other players is unclear, but it seems that there was a great deal of it with certain international financial agencies, with France and Canada; our own aid, certainly, went directly to NGOs, and not to the government. Public health and public education faltered, as did other services of special importance to the poor. I noted in a book written in those years that the budget of the Republic of Haiti, nine million strong, wasn’t much different from that of the city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, with 100,000 citizens; neither amounted to a quarter of the budget of the Harvard teaching hospital, a single one, in which I trained and now work.

Without resources, it was difficult for public providers to provide; many left to work in NGOs, which did not have a mandate to serve all citizens, and others left the country altogether. Choking off assistance for development and for the provision of basic services also choked off oxygen to the government, which was the intention all along: to dislodge the Aristide administration.

But the coup, simply denied as such by some in the so-called international community, did not really take. The U.S.-selected caretaker government was unpopular, unrest continued to grow, and Port-au-Prince became the kidnapping capital of the world in spite of a very large U.N. presence. Again, the so-called forces of order, the police, were weak or corrupt—as pale a reflection of what the force should have been as were public health and public education.

Some efforts to reverse this ruinous policy of squeezing the public sector, which was often and correctly denounced by Congresswomen Lee and Waters and many other members of the CBC, have been palpable over the past year, although progress has been slow. And then came the earthquake, which further decreased the capacity of the public sector to provide meaningful services, leaving once again a growing number of NGOs and other non-state providers to fill the breach. Allow me to give two more data points: on January 27th, it was noted in the Washington Post that less than 1% of all U.S. quake aid was going to the Haitian government. (Almost as much went, even, to the Dominican government.) My colleagues at the U.N. are tracking these numbers, and also pledges made and disbursed, and here’s one of the latest: of $1.8 billion for earthquake relief sent to Haiti, less than 2.9% has so far gone to the government.

I argued here in 2003, in testimony to the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, that it is difficult, without real and sustained commitments to strengthening the public sector—including its regulatory and coordinating capacity, so that the quality of the services offered by NGOs and others will not be all over the map—to monitor funds and to use them efficiently. This remains true today. Thus are the Haitian people still tasting the bitter dregs of the cup we prepared for them as we weakened, or failed to strengthen, the public sector over the past decades.

During these years, unfair international trade policies cut Haitian farmers off at the knees, accelerating the complex and vicious cycle of urban migration and deforestation that set the stage for the food insecurity that was to follow, for the extreme vulnerability to heavy rains and storms, and for the massive overcrowding and shoddy construction revealed to all late in the afternoon of January 12th.

3. What is to be done?

This is where we are at the six-month mark, as hurricane season approaches. Less than five percent of the rubble has been cleared. People are going to camps for shelter and for other services that all of us humans need to get by. Gender-based violence worsens the “structural violence” to which the poor, in general, are subjected. The good news is that the enormous generosity and solidarity of the world after the earthquake was and is real: it’s estimated that more than half of all American households contributed to earthquake relief. Speaking as a volunteer for PIH, I can proudly announce that we have, along with the Ministry of Health, already broken ground on a huge new teaching hospital in central Haiti. We know from experience, as my colleague Loune Viaud will report, that it’s possible to get a great deal done in rural Haiti, and these services and jobs will also pull people out of the city and contribute to the decentralization so desperately needed.

But there needs to be a shift, especially in how we plan and deliver basic health, education, and other safety-net services: a commitment to move at least some of the assistance (including private money) into public hands, which has not been at all the favored approach to assistance to Haiti. This is increasingly recognized as the right thing to do, as Paul Weisenfeld, Haiti Task Team Coordinator for USAID, who reported the falling rates of water-borne diseases noted above, observed recently: “I think it’s key to us that if we’re going to have sustainability we are going to have to work through Haitian institutions, which requires strengthening them. Obviously [they’ve] been weakened tremendously by this earthquake, so at the same time that we implement reconstruction programs, we need to strengthen government institutions so that we can work through them.”[1] We have also just worked with the American Red Cross to support performance-based financing of medical and nursing staff in Haiti’s largest public hospital. These efforts will not be easy, but they are necessary.

This shift will not be a panacea for Haiti but could be coupled with a powerful and complementary focus on another movement of capital, this time from public to private and from wealthy to poor: a focus on job creation and on strengthening the hand of those trying to farm (and reforest) the land and also on young people, especially young women, living in poverty. We need a greater sense of urgency. And the most urgent task of all is the creation of jobs that will confer dignity to those in greatest need. As FDR said early in the Depression, “The Nation asks for action and action now. Our greatest primary task is to put people to work.”[2]

As it was during the Great Depression, there are innumerable public-works jobs imaginable, from reforestation and rubble removal to preparing for back-to-school (la rentrée), which must put kids back in schools, safe schools, with the books and uniforms they need and a nutritious lunch during the day. As for health, Haitians need a real health system. This will require a massive investment in new clinics and hospitals, staff to run them, and health insurance at a time when only 300,000 families have it. These are indivisible tasks, as FDR noted at the outset of the Depression: “Public health . . . is a responsibility of the state as [is] the duty to promote general welfare. The state educates is children. Why not keep them well?”[3]

Job creation and improved health and educational services, with greater investment in the public sector: this should be a big part of the mantra. I do not mean to suggest that this transfer of capital, resources, etc., is easy. We know it’s not, because we’re in direct contact with the representatives of large multilateral and bilateral agencies, which have to follow laborious processes in order to disburse funds. But let us ask, in the face of urgent need, if we are well served by the fetishization of process now retarding the flow of capital into the hands of families in greatest need. The International Commission for the Reconstruction of Haiti, which is now being born, needs to be swift and nimble; the rules of the road for development assistance need to be rewritten, not to favor contractors and middlemen and trauma vultures, but to favor the victims of the quake. Right now there are shovel-ready projects, which could create tens of thousands of jobs and perhaps more. There are plenty of people living in poverty, including the market women who have never had access to capital or financial services and who have been working against an undertow of unfair trade policies, who are as entrepreneurial as anyone else in the world. Projects of all sorts can be greenlighted, but will move sluggishly if the funds seep into the ICRH too slowly and if projects cannot be moved forward because of strangling strictures on how the money is to be used.

People in this country know it’s possible to move forward with a sense of urgency. During the Depression, job creation and improved services from health care to education to rural electrification were the focus of many efforts. FDR, then the governor of New York, called for “workfare” and welfare through the Temporary Emergency Relief Administration (TERA). This call was made on August 28, 1931, and it was up and running by winter:

The crisis had finally imposed some discipline of responsibility even on the Republican legislators, who with uncharacteristic docility did what the governor asked. (The New York Voters would overwhelmingly approve the bond issue in November 1932.) Faithful to romantic notions of rural life, Roosevelt had TERA subsidize the resettlement of as many unemployed as possible on marginal farmland, with tools and instruction on how to cultivate it. In six years TERA assisted five million people, 40 percent of the population of New York State, at a cost of $1,555,000. At the end of the period, 70 percent of these were no longer reliant on government assistance.[4]

Later these lessons were taken to scale in many programs, including the Civil Works Administration, which created millions of jobs and moved billions into the public sector through public works and into the hands of the previously unemployed.

Certainly Haiti’s need is no less great than that faced by the States during the Depression. Let us hope it can build a more just tax base, even though its IRS, like its Ministries of Health and Education, has been destroyed. In the meantime, the world has responded generously and now it is incumbent upon us to move these resources into the hands of the Haitian people, especially those directly affected, in these two complementary ways. Again, this is not a choice between public and private sectors, any more than this is a choice between strengthening local agriculture and rebuilding infrastructure, but rather a plea to focus resource distribution on the poor and displaced by providing basic services and through job creation. There is no evidence whatsoever that this is an impossible mission.

Notes: [1] Remarks by Paul Weisenfeld, USAID Haiti Task Team coordinator, at a media roundtable on July 19, 2010. Available at: http://www.usaid.gov/press/speeches/2010/sp100719_1.html

.

[2] Roosevelt, Franklin D. First Inaugural Address. March 4, 1933.

[3] Black, Conrad. Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom. New York: PublicAffairs, 2003. Page 194.

[4] Black, pages 216-217.

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Testimony of Loune Viaud

Loune Viaud, Director of Operations and Strategic Planning for Zanmi Lasante

Chairwoman Lee, esteemed members of the Congressional Black Caucus, thank you for inviting me to testify here today. My name is Loune Viaud, and I am Director of Operations and Strategic Planning for Zanmi Lasante, an organization devoted to providing a preferential option for the poor in rural Haiti. Zanmi Lasante is the partner organization of Partners In Health, an organization which also advocates for and provides a preferential option for the poor around the world. On behalf of Zanmi Lasante and Partners In Health, I want to thank the members of the Congressional Black Caucus for arranging this hearing, and for ensuring that the voices of Haitians are heard.  Today I will address the current situation and needs of the Haitian people, the needs of vulnerable children, the status of the healthcare system, and the need for decentralization and job creation.

The Current Situation and Haitian Priorities

On one visit to Port-au-Prince—even without venturing far from the airport—one will see that little progress has been made to date. I am going to talk about priorities—in any case, what we see as priorities on the ground. I see healthcare, employment, decentralization, protection of children, women, adolescent girls, the elderly and the most vulnerable members of the population. What happened to us the afternoon of January 12 changed everything. The way we live, the way we see the world and the future.

What happened to us is beyond words. So many people died. There are so many new people with disabilities, orphans, unaccompanied and displaced children, elders and women left vulnerable and at a loss. So much despair.

Despite this despair, we also feel grateful for the solidarity around the world. Immediately after the earthquake, a great number of people wanted to help, and many came to Haiti to do so. But now, six months later, we still need solidarity, and we need those who want to help to work in cooperation and partnership with and for the Haitian people. Rather than charity, Haiti needs partners. Haiti needs jobs. In particular, I see decentralization in the form of job creation outside of Port-au-Prince. Jobs will stabilize other parts of the  country, empower the communities, and save lives.

We need Haitians to lead the reconstruction efforts. We need our partners to take a rights-based approach in the construction of a new Haiti. This means supporting the capacity and the leadership of both the Haitian government and Haitian communities; it means deferring to the experiences of Haitians and guaranteeing our participation in the rebuilding of our country; it means unconditionally respecting all of our human rights—including the right to food, the right to decent housing and sanitation, the right to health, the right to potable water, the right to education and the right to security.

Zanmi Beni and Protection of Vulnerable Children

We at Zanmi Lasante (ZL) are doing our best to protect the rights of some of the very most vulnerable members of our population: orphaned and abandoned children, many of whom are mentally and physically disabled. Child wellbeing has long been one of Zanmi Lasante’s central concerns, as children are often the most vulnerable to sickness and deprivation of rights in the communities we serve. Following the earthquake, there was a desperate need for refuge and support for children affected by the quake.

In partnership with the Ministry of Social Affairs and Operation Blessing International, among other organizations, ZL is working to fill this gaping void. We opened Zanmi Beni, a home just outside of Port-au-Prince for abandoned and disabled children. Zanmi Beni, which means “blessed friends” in Haitian Creole, now provides shelter, education and love for over 48 children. We need more places like Zanmi Beni or at minimum, more children’s shelters. In challenging times and impoverished settings, children are often the most at risk, in part because they are not as able to advocate for themselves.

Countrywide, the protection of children continues to be a priority as we work to improve the humanitarian situation in Haiti. Children were particularly affected by the earthquake: in the six months following the quake, of the almost 147,000 patient encounters logged at the clinics set up in the four settlement camps in Port-au-Prince, 40 percent were patients under age 20. Half of those patients were under five years old. Thousands more children were injured, traumatized, displaced, and orphaned by the earthquake. Children in Haiti, particularly homeless, disabled, and orphaned children, still desperately need shelter, care, and protection. We must make sure that their fundamental rights are protected, and that the government of Haiti is empowered to fulfill these rights.

The Health Sector

Together, the international community and people of Haiti must also work hard to ensure that the right to healthcare is being fulfilled for all. Strengthening of the healthcare system is essential to the restoration of Haiti.

On July 3, in partnership with local government, the Haitian Ministry of Health, Harvard, Duke, and Dartmouth Medical schools, and a variety of private and public organizations, Zanmi Lasante broke ground to begin building an innovative referral and teaching hospital. Mirebalais, where the hospital is being built, is about 35 miles north of Port-au-Prince, and is known as the “gateway” to the Central Plateau Department. The hospital perfectly embodies our commitment to Haiti in that it integrates research, teaching, and service, and is the result of a broad coalition of public, private, and government organizations, in both the U.S. and Haiti.

Prior to the quake, our plan was to build a 108-bed teaching hospital offering comprehensive, community-based primary and prenatal care as well as treatment for TB, HIV, malaria, and malnutrition. However, the destruction of 80 percent of Haiti’s healthcare infrastructure on January 12 made the need for a hospital in Mirebalais more urgent than ever. Thousands of people have traveled to, and are still journeying into, the rural Central and Artibonite Departments from Port-au-Prince seeking desperately needed healthcare. Additionally, the earthquake badly damaged the country’s only teaching hospital, and destroyed most of its educational facilities. The state medical and nursing schools were particularly hard hit, and the Port-au-Prince nursing school, where an entire class of nursing students died, was completely demolished. After the earthquake, at the request of Haiti’s Ministry of Health, we expanded our vision for the hospital.

The new hospital will be 180,000 square feet and have 320 beds, in addition to state-of-the-art infection control, wall-mounted oxygen and medical gases, improved diagnostics (digital x-ray and ultrasound), and increased space around the beds to accommodate teaching rounds for medical and nursing students. The hospital will include the technological and logistical capacity to support educational exchanges, distance learning and remote collaborations. It is our hope that it will serve as a model for Haiti’s national healthcare system, a place where Haitian doctors and nurses can be trained and empowered to take care of the  country’s people. In this way, it is our greatest hope that the Mirebalais hospital will strengthen healthcare throughout Haiti and help solve Haiti’s healthcare human resource crisis.

We are employing local people to build the hospital that will serve them and their communities. This hospital will be our flagship, equivalent in capacity to all of our current facilities in Haiti. Perhaps more importantly, the Mirebalais hospital is a symbol: a symbol of our commitment to public partnerships and infrastructure, healthcare as a human right, and the people of Haiti. It is our commitment to “building back better,” hand-in-hand with the government and people of Haiti.

Simultaneously, we are working to restore the devastated General Hospital in Port-au-Prince—l’Hôpital de l’Université d’Etat d’Haiti (HUEH), the largest medical institution in the country. The General Hospital was nearly destroyed by the earthquake, and in the days that followed, surviving staff members and volunteers—over 370 in total—worked to treat thousands of badly injured patients. Over the course of days and weeks, electricity and running water were restored. In addition, along with numerous partners, ZL was there and helped staff 12 operating rooms, where staff members and volunteers performed surgeries 24 hours a day.

More than six months after the earthquake, there is still much to be done, and ZL’s focus is changing from the immediate to long-term strengthening and care. The hospital staff has resumed responsibility for most clinical services, and so we have shifted to increased training, capacity, and professionalization of the nursing staff. We have also worked to establish a Friends of HUEH Foundation to build partnerships and financial support for rebuilding and strengthening the hospital.

As with the Mirebalais Hospital, we are committed to cross-sector partnerships and long-term planning. We have found that the best way to ensure that access to these services is both universal and sustainable is by partnering with Haitian public institutions that are ultimately responsible for ensuring that Haitians have the right to health, water, food, and education.  These partnerships ensure that the capacity of the government is enhanced, and that the assets we are creating—crucial infrastructure and services—are ultimately owned by the Haitian people.  Our partnerships have been successful because our goal is to support our government in doing its job – to fulfill all Haitians’ right to health.

Job Creation and Decentralization – Aquaculture Project

In addition to focusing on protection of children and on Haiti’s health sector, a main priority in improving the humanitarian situation in Haiti is the creation and decentralization of jobs. This is essential if Haiti is to stabilize and prosper, and to ensure that the human rights of Haiti’s people are fulfilled.

Haiti, like many countries, has historically seen in-country migration from its rural regions to Port-au-Prince, its capital city. Many moved to the city in search of employment opportunities. However, the January earthquake devastated Port-au-Prince, and set in motion a reversal of this trend. In the past six months, hundreds of thousands of people have moved to the Central Plateau and Lower Artibonite, areas where Zanmi Lasante has worked for over twenty years. Initially, most of these migrants were in need of immediate medical care—2,961 earthquake victims were treated at ZL health clinics in the first month after the quake. While many migrants continue to need healthcare, many moved in search of employment, stability, and survival. Decentralization of employment opportunities has become essential.

ZL and Partners In Health, in partnership with the UN Office of the Special Envoy to Haiti and the mayor of Boucan Carre, a region in the Central Plateau of Haiti, are working on a tilapia-raising aquaculture project. This project will bring jobs to hundreds in the region. It is again our hope that this project will also open up the region for development and investment on a larger scale.

In addition to the decentralization that is essential to Haiti’s recovery, the aquaculture project will help to fulfill other fundamental rights for people in the region. Currently, the region, two hours from Port-au-Prince, does not have access to fresh fish, a highly nutritious source of local food. The fish that is available is dried and is prohibitively expensive for most of the rural population. This project will both increase the amount of fish available, and at the same time decrease the cost to the rural population. In addition to providing food security, which is incredibly important, the aquaculture project will provide food sovereignty for a large segment of the population, enabling them to control food production for themselves and their community. In my humble opinion, we need more projects like this in the countryside of Haiti, especially where there are large rivers, which, instead of swelling during the rainy season and killing people in the region, they could be used  to feed the communities.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of food security and food sovereignty. Particularly for a marginalized and under-resourced population, food security and sovereignty will be transformative. Any industry, development, investment, and employment that this project brings to the area could similarly transform hundreds of thousands of lives. It is long-term development projects and meaningful investments like this that we would like to focus on, in addition to dealing with more immediate needs.

Conclusion and Recommendations for Moving Forward

On all fronts, there is so much to be done.

I want to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to each and every one of you, venerable members of the Congressional Black Caucus, for all you have done for Haiti. Your work does not go unnoticed, and we are deeply appreciative. However, I am afraid that we still need you to do more.

Both the service and advocacy work will be long-term. Continued discussions and advocacy will be needed for bilateral and multilateral donors to encourage actual disbursement of the nearly US$10 billion committed at the 2010 Donor Conference at the United Nations in March. Working with the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice & Human Rights, the NYU Center for Human Rights and Global Justice, and the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, we proposed a rights-based framework for transparency and accountability to, international donors, implementers, and NGOs.   Along with the UN Office of the Special Envoy and other partners, we will continue to advocate for better implementation of foreign aid-funded projects and to channel more aid through the Haitian government in order to strengthen their systems and their ability to fulfill their citizens’ human rights.

We in Haiti appreciate the U.S. government’s commitment to partnering with our government and our fellow Haitians as we rebuild. We hope that this commitment will come with the tools needed to facilitate our participation. Central to our meaningful participation are transparency mechanisms that will help Haitians across the country track U.S. government funds at the local level and be able to provide feedback on projects as they’re being planned and implemented, and most importantly in the event that they do not have the desired outcome.

An immediate priority is the passage of the Supplemental War Funding Bill (H.R. 4899), which contains $2.9 billion in aid to be released for Haiti’s reconstruction. We need your help to protect the 425,000 or so families that are living in the internally displaced persons camps. These camps are crowded, ramshackle, unsanitary, and insecure – women and young girls are gang raped every night. The best possible solution is to build permanent housing to, among other things, decrease the gender-based violence, as well as create jobs and services. As the supplemental bill languishes, people are dying, and reconstruction is struggling. We need you to help us keep up the pressure to pass this bill.

We also need you to keep the attention on Haiti. Though the people of Haiti have long suffered at the hands of cruel dictators, brutally destructive international policies, and natural disasters; in the past, this suffering has often been ignored. However, immediately following the earthquake, the world’s attention turned to Haiti. Our work has been assisted by the massive outpouring of support and solidarity from people around the world and from the contributions of donor countries. However, we need to maintain this focus. Two weeks ago, on July 12, we marked six months since the earthquake. Unfortunately, this was met with only passing attention by the U.S. media and populace. However, for those of us in Haiti, we are confronted by the effects of the earthquake everywhere, every moment of every day. We are surrounded by evidence that there is so much more we can do to restore Haiti, and to fulfill the human rights of all in Haiti. Despite many challenges, there is much hope… I want to believe that with this administration, this Congress, those great friends of Haiti, there is hope and possibility for Haiti, if the right choices are made and the right actions are taken.

I don’t expect miracles. I expect there will be many challenges ahead both political (i.e. the elections) and by natural disaster (hurricane season and the risk of more earthquakes).  But I also expect your help, solidarity and partnership for the right choices and the right actions to be taken in favor of Haiti, venerable members of the CBC.

Mèsi anpil. Wout la long men avèk anpil men epi bòn volonte, chay la pa dwe lou…

Thank you very much.

One Day Longer? The Vale-Inco Strike Comes to a Close

By admin, July 23, 2010 2:21 pm
Socialist Project - home The   B u l l e t Socialist Project - home
Socialist Project • E-Bulletin No. 395
July 23, 2010

One Day Longer?

The Vale-Inco Strike Comes to a Close

Scott Neigh

On July 7 and 8, 2010, striking members of United Steel Workers Local 6500 in Sudbury, Ontario, voted 75% in favour of a contract that ended a bitter strike against transnational mining giant Vale Inco. The 3300 strikers had been on the picket lines for almost one year (along with members of Local 6200 in Port Colborne, Ontario, who voted in favour by a similar margin).

Despite the immense effort and sacrifices made by workers over the course of the year-long ordeal, the settlement marks a defeat for a local with a reputation for strength in a town with a history of solidarity. It is a hard moment for those who are returning to work – who endured so much and still lost significant ground – but as the world faces the renewed neoliberal assault promised by leaders at the recent G20 summit in Toronto, it is important to ask critical questions that might strengthen all of our struggles in the difficult times ahead.

The Strike

Though it was rarely framed this way during the dispute, this strike was all about neoliberalism. The components of that agenda that are about reorganizing work, tying people’s lives ever more tightly to the market, and taking gains away from ordinary people to the benefit of elites were reflected in the company’s demands.

Steelworkers at the July 26 anti-G20 rally, Queen’s Park, Toronto.

As has so often been the case with neoliberal demands the world over, ordinary people could have chosen to acquiesce, but instead they chose to fight. Yet as has also happened in many places around the world, elites responded to this resistance by inflicting suffering on the bodies of those who resisted. For thousands of working-class families in Sudbury, this meant a year of doing without in significant ways. Some workers lost their homes. Other workers saw their relationships crumble.

It was also clear that the company intended to mount a serious attack on the union. In the earliest days of the strike, a former executive of Inco (as the company was known before being bought by Brazilian transnational Vale in 2006) was quoted anonymously in the Globe and Mail as saying, “They just want to break the union. They want to completely hit the reset button on the entire labour situation and the agreements that have been put in place in the past.” There were occasions later in the strike where articles in the Canadian business press included in their headlines references to Vale trying to break the union, indicating that the business class in Canada did not take seriously the protestations by Vale spokespeople in those same articles that they were doing no such thing.

The company made skillful use of court injunctions in concert with the sophisticated surveillance, harassment, and legal capabilities of strikebreaking firm AFI to limit the possibility for effective, militant picketing. This was the first time since union recognition in the 1940s that a mining company in Sudbury has attempted to use scab labour to restart production during a strike. Though production remained significantly impaired throughout the strike, speculation was that within another two or three months, Vale would have been able to come close to full production using scabs.

The Deal

Nobody on the union side is happy with the contents of the settlement. It represents, according to one community activist I talked to, “a significant defeat.” It contains some improvements over the offer made before the strike in a number of areas, but only very modest ones, and in the overall context of the company winning the substance of all of its major demands.

Though there is a small wage increase over the five-year life of the deal, the nickel price level at which the nickel bonus kicks in has been raised substantially and for the first time there will be a cap on the percentage of a worker’s income that can come from the bonus. One rank-and-file worker that I talked to calculated that the new rules around the nickel bonus could lead to him losing as much as $30,000 per year compared to the height of the boom earlier this decade. The company was also successful in imposing new restrictions on seniority rights, greater freedom to contract out some kinds of work to non-union contractors, and a streamlined grievance procedure that will be less fair to workers. As well, all new hires will now be placed on a defined contribution pension plan, rather than the defined benefit plan in which current workers and retirees are enrolled. Some union activists see this as one step in a larger plan by the company to get all of its current and former employees on the defined contribution scheme.

Beyond the deal itself, the back-to-work protocol has enraged many workers, not the least because it was not made available to them until almost the end of the voting on the deal. The terms include a six week period at the start of the contract in which the union has conceded immense power to the company to restructure the workforce. During this period, most union work can be done by non-union people and the company has great latitude to reassign and transfer workers. Most shockingly, the union has agreed to what one union activist, in only a slight exaggeration, has described as “no grievance procedure whatsoever” for those six weeks.

The company has also persisted in its attempts to weaken mobilizations by the union in future disputes by attacking its ability to protect members who have been active in strike activities. Though the back-to-work protocol called on both sides to drop all legal measures related to the strike, the company appears still to be proceeding with criminal charges against three individual workers and contempt proceedings for alleged violations of the picketing injunction against a number of others, claiming that the protocol only referred to legal actions against the union and its officials. Also, for what appears to be the first time involving a major union in recent Ontario history, nine workers who were fired during the course of the strike were not rehired as part of the deal. While the union has succeeded, with considerable effort, in getting the labour board to hear the cases of these workers and intends to pursue a constitutional case based on freedom of association, the refusal to rehire sets a dangerous precedent for other unions.

Raising Questions

Raising critical questions at such a difficult moment is a risky venture, particularly when they are being raised by someone like myself who is not one of those most directly impacted by the struggle. Yet it is also a moment in which learning from recent victories and defeats is crucial. Bank of Canada governor Mark Carney recently predicted a global “age of austerity,” which was confirmed by the elite consensus announced at the G20 meetings in Toronto in June. Workers, communities, indigenous nations, women, queers, people living in poverty, the environment – all will soon be facing reinvigorated neoliberal assault.

Since the acceptance of Vale’s offer I have interviewed a number of (mostly activist) members of Local 6500 as well as community activists who worked in support of the strike – all of the former and some of the latter requested anonymity as a condition of the interviews. I have added this to the observations and informal conversations I had over the course of the strike. The picture that has emerged is of a struggle that was waged with traditional assumptions and tools in an environment and against an enemy that had changed in significant ways. One of the union activists told me, “We went into a gunfight carrying a pencil and they had laser beams.”

At the very least, the loss of this strike at Vale Inco can teach us not to trust old assumptions about resistance in the current environment. And it may also point not just union and community spaces in Sudbury but also those across North America toward some of the questions that we must ask as we brace for what is to come.

Tactics

The dominant tactical orientation of Local 6500 seemed largely drawn from the mainstream traditions of industrial unions, particularly those with a more “business union” orientation, to borrow a label that one long-time community activist applied to the local. The kinds of preparations made by the leadership and their relationship to the other tactics that emerged over the course of the strike imply an assumption of the primacy of picket-line militancy and of a much more marginal role for other kinds of mobilizations.

There are a number of reasons why circumstances today mean that such tactics, which may have worked in decades past, could no longer seal the deal in Sudbury. For one thing, though Inco has long been a corporation with global reach (and a history of atrocious practices in the global South), Vale is simply a much larger company with much deeper pockets. Though the strike did impair production significantly and did cost the company money, the operations in Sudbury (and elsewhere in Canada) are such a small part of the company’s empire that the level of harm that one group of workers can inflict by withdrawing their labour remains quite limited.

As well, the evolution of labour law in Ontario creates conditions that favour companies. While much local attention focused on the lack of legislation preventing the use of scabs – something that was in force in the province briefly in the early 1990s, and has proven effective in other provinces as well – it is far from the only problem. The combination of injunctions restricting picketing with firms like AFI, which specialize in strikebreaking and the harassment of workers, make the possibility of truly effective picketing even more remote.

Unions, including North America’s remaining industrial strongholds, need to recognize that while picket lines are important, they are no longer the one and only site for struggle. As one union activist I talked to put it, “You won’t win a strike on the picket line, but you sure can lose a strike on the picket line.”

The question becomes how to respond to this reality. What tactics will work? What changes in organizational form, practices, and culture would support more effective tactics? Some of the questions in the following sections point toward some possible avenues for discussion by workers and other activists as we move forward.

Ordinary Members

Over the year that the Steel Workers were on the lines, at least two overlapping but distinct networks of rank-and-file activists emerged, as well as networks among the wives and partners of strikers. One of the worker-based networks was catalyzed as a result of some spaces and resources that came from the international level of the union and the other was a more spontaneous local formation.

These networks experimented with a range of tactics. They drew public attention to scabs. They protested at the hotels where AFI strikebreakers were staying. They successfully campaigned to get the city council to call on the province to pass anti-scab legislation. They rallied repeatedly against provincial and federal politicians, both from the city and farther afield. They mounted fast, short blockades of specific work sites at unexpected intervals. They participated in the G20 labour march. They protested businesses that were crossing the picket lines. Some wives and partners of strikers took on increasingly militant roles, both in some of these actions and in a few autonomously organized actions, as they were not vulnerable to the same threat of consequences as workers.

Discussions about what was effective and what was not still need to happen among the activists in question as the strike is debriefed, but what is clear is that ordinary members applying their energy, knowledge, skills, and willingness to take risks in creative, autonomous ways offered a greatly expanded scope for struggle compared to picket lines alone. There was a great hunger to try new things and to find approaches that might shift public opinion, political positions, and consequences for the company.

There are plenty of indications that much more could be done to make the most of this kind of struggle, whatever specifics workers decide are appropriate in a given instance. It was Gary Kinsman, a long-time activist and a scholar who has worked extensively on the history of Canadian social movements, including some work on Sudbury’s labour movement, who described the local historically as a “business union” and also as “top-down” in its organization. One consequence of this is an internal culture that has not always fostered participatory governance or spaces and resources devoted to facilitating social movement-like mobilization of rank-and-file workers, though there have been moments of exception to this.

From the people I talked to, there seems to have been little attention to building this kind of capacity either in general in recent years or specifically in the lead-up to the strike. The international-sponsored training that lead to the formation of one of the networks happened shortly after the beginning of the strike, but from its content appeared to have been designed for use six months to a year before a strike was expected to occur.

During the strike itself, though the union had the information to mount all of the picket lines it needed from the beginning, it did not produce a coordinated means for mobilizing all of its members for other sorts of actions until several months into the strike. As well, at no point does there appear to have been anyone assigned to coordinate the strike-related activities originating from different spaces within the union. Information flow to and among members was another problem that activists identified. Despite the approval and even resources provided by the local leadership for rank-and-file activities at various points, activists I talked to identified a strong and consistent disconnection of the leadership from the activities organized by the rank-and-file networks.

What can be done to build on the experiences of ordinary members who became active in this strike? What can be done to create spaces and resources during non-strike periods that can build an ever-growing base of members with skills, political knowledge, and confidence to engage in the kinds of actions beyond the picket lines that can help unions win? What is the best role for leadership in doing this? What is the best role for rank-and-file networks? For the families of members?

International Links

Another key element in struggles against global companies (or other global institutions) is making links among those who face the same enemy in different places. North American unions are still in the early stages of figuring out how to do that effectively. The international level of the Steel Workers is, by all accounts, deeply involved in trying to make such linkages, and appeared to be doing a lot of that kind of work in relation to this strike. However, the knowledge among both community and union activists I spoke to in Sudbury was often vague on the details of this work. My sense is that a lot of good things were happening, but that, even when a few members of the local were directly involved, most members had little opportunity to learn about what was happening internationally or to get a practical sense of being involved in a global struggle in alliance with sisters and brothers half a world away.

It is also unclear what kind of barriers to effective solidarity might have been created by the choice at the beginning of the strike to politically frame it in strongly nationalist terms – as Canadian workers and a Canadian community fighting a Brazilian enemy. Official statements after the initial period seemed to pull back somewhat from the blatant nationalism of the earliest period, but never completely, and it continued to exert a powerful influence over at least a segment of the membership. This is, of course, deeply connected to the troubling tendency of much of the broader left in North America to respond to neoliberalism in nationalist ways.

How can substantive global links be forged among workers? How should international work be integrated into local struggles? What barriers do nationalist politics present for such work, as well as to developing deeper understandings of what neoliberalism is and how it works?

Local Alliances

In the current strike, there were a number of barriers to effective mobilizations in the broader community in support of the strike. The following section examines those related to the community itself. However, a key one was, as far as many of us in the community could tell, that the union was not terribly interested or able to cultivate such support. In the early months, there were a number of instances of social justice groups (and quite a few more of individual activists) calling the union to ask what they could do, and never hearing back. Individual demonstrations of support were certainly encouraged, whether that was donating money or taking coffee to a picket line or putting a supportive sign in your window, but building relationships of alliance with activists and social justice groups in the community did not seem to be a high priority.

Again, this has some basis in history. Local 6500 does not have a strong record of building relationships of solidarity with social justice and community groups outside of the labour movement. For many community activists in Sudbury, this was epitomized by the decision of Local 6500 during the Days of Action campaign which swept across Ontario in the late 1990s in opposition to the right-wing provincial government of Premier Mike Harris to use its dominance at the Sudbury and District Labour Council to prevent that body from sponsoring the Sudbury Days of Action.

Given the importance of action beyond the picket line for winning against the neoliberal agenda, how should unions relate to social justice groups in the community? What does reciprocal solidarity look like?

Beyond the Union

While the lack of attention to facilitating community alliances by the local was a significant factor, there was much less there to facilitate than in decades past. As one long-time community activist who requested anonymity sadly told me, this strike “debunked the myth that Sudbury is a union town.”

According to Kinsman, “There was a lot of support for the strike, but a lot of it remained incredibly passive and inactive.” This may explain why all of the union activists I talked to were moderately positive about the level of support they received in the community, while the community activists were uniformly negative.

Laurie McGauley is another long-time activist in the community, with many years of experience in the feminist movement and other social justice spaces. She said that in January, seven months into the strike, there was still “absolutely no community-lead support initiatives going on. Which is unusual for Sudbury in a big strike like this… It just blew my mind.” So she and a few other people called together old contacts and allies, including many with roots in the women’s movement, and put together a group called CANARYS, short for Community Activists Need Answers Regarding Your Safety. For the balance of the strike they held weekly meetings and regular events and protests, often highly theatrical ones, focusing on opposition to scab labour and the danger that under-trained workers posed to the community given the nature of the facilities they were operating. While community response to the group showed a hunger for ways to be more actively in support, no other centres of activity emerged in the community outside of the labour movement.

Even within the labour movement, the response was less vigorous than it could have been. While traditional forms of strike solidarity, like declarations of support and financial donations, began to arrive from other unions from Sudbury and from across the country soon after the strike began – indeed, many unions were very generous over the course of the year – it was also many months into the strike before a support committee focused on mobilizing people was formed at the local labour council.

The community activists I talked to offered a number of theories as to why the level of activism in support of the strike was so low in the broader community. Certainly the disinterest or inability of the union to engage with activism in the community was one. Another was the changes in the shape of the local economy – once upon a time, the mining workforce involved tens of thousands of people, but the local was only 3300 strong at the start of the strike, so the impact on the community was much less.

McGauley also talked about the loss of a culture of activism in the city, which as recently as ten years ago was very vibrant. She noted that the incredible influence of the company, including its generous funding of many local recreational, cultural, and environmental initiatives, meant that many people were hesitant about coming out publicly against Vale. Other community activists pointed toward the material and cultural impacts of neoliberalism. The former means that more people are having to put more time into making ends meet and so have less time for activism, and the latter tends to push a more atomized and individualistic view of the world that has little space for solidarity, social justice, or social change.

This seems to be consistent with the experience of many other communities across Canada. While there are signs in Canada’s largest cities of the beginnings of a modest uptick in social movement activity, at least in specific sectors, this does not seem to have reached much beyond Vancouver, Toronto, and Montreal.

What must be done to recompose sites of struggle in Sudbury and across the continent? What can we do to reconstitute a culture of activism? What questions do we need to be asking and what conversations do we need to be having to begin preparing for the renewed push for neoliberalism promised by the G20?

Looking Forward

It is difficult to ask questions arising from a defeat without encouraging pessimism. Some community activists are worried that this defeat for Local 6500 – an organization with a reputation for strength greater than any sort of people’s organization that most of us in North America can dream of belonging to – might discourage others in Sudbury and others in the larger labour movement from actively resisting when neoliberalism comes knocking. This is certainly possible. But it does not have to be.

At the most basic level, the company wanted to break the union, break the workers, and it failed. The union lost, but it remains a powerful tool that the workers can use to fight another day.

Another consequence of this struggle was that it created activists. One union militant that I talked to estimated that there was a core of between 200 and 300 activists who were consistently involved throughout the strike. Some of these will not stay involved, of course, but many will. They will become a nucleus of struggle against the company and, potentially, of struggles against neoliberalism more broadly in the Sudbury community for decades to come. In this way, the strike has left Sudbury stronger.

The strike also presented glimpses of possibility, little moments of anticipation of what might be. One such moment was a mass direct action near the end of the strike. After talks broke down yet again, a segment of the rank-and-file networks put up blockades at the main entrances to two company facilities with several hundred participants that lasted for multiple days. Many members who had not before been active in the strike outside of picket duty saw this as a chance to do something powerful, and they joined in. The company and the police insisted the action was in violation of the picketing injunction, yet the angry strikers, their families, and supporters from the community remained, even with the threat of police intervention. Yet, when senior union leadership intervened to end the action, there was great anger from many of the rank-and-file workers who were participating, and significant demoralization and demobilization afterward. But it was also a taste of the power of ordinary people, of what resistance in a Sudbury of reinvigorated movements might look like.

What if this kind of tactic was begun not in the late days of the strike but early on? What if there was a longstanding culture of activism within the local to draw on, and vibrant, already-existing rank-and-file networks? What if there were strong links to a highly mobilized community? In such circumstances, it is easy to imagine not 300 people but 3000 people willing to be present even in the face of police disapproval, which would have changed the balance of forces significantly. And what if that was coupled to strong bonds with workers overseas? Coordinated action against Vale at multiple sites around the world becomes imaginable.

It is impossible to know in any definitive way what could have turned a defeat into a victory. However, in thinking about the future, it is important to keep in mind that the speculations in the previous paragraph are not just imaginable, but possible. In fact, not only is the capacity to engage in actions like that possible, it may even be necessary as the “age of austerity” descends. The only way to get there is to begin asking questions like those arising from the Vale Inco strike – questions about how to create participatory organizations; about how to build a movement by creating spaces and using resources such that all of us can grow in confidence, knowledge, and skills, to better act autonomously and creatively; about how to recreate an activist culture in smaller centres across the continent; about how to build real alliances around the world and across different sectors and social locations close to home. Wherever we are, we must begin talking about such things, so that we can move forward together. •

Scott Neigh is a writer, activist, and parent who lives in Sudbury, Ontario. For more of his writing, visit scottneigh.blogspot.com. An earlier version of this article appeared on Linchpin.ca.

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